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New York City native Jessica Ramos was like many other moms in the Big Apple: holding down a high-pressure day job—in her case, as a media director for City Hall—and devoting her off-duty hours to quality time with her kids and volunteer work for organizations like her neighborhood beautification committee.

In early 2017, her life took an unexpected turn. Jose Peralta, the state senator representing Ramos’ district 13 in Queens, announced he was breaking away from the Democratic party to align with a more conservative coalition. Ramos, who describes herself as a “real democrat,” was outraged—so outraged, in fact, she’s now going after Peralta’s job in the upcoming primary.

With record numbers of women now running for office, heymama wanted to know: What’s it really like to go from constituent to candidate? Here, Ramos opens up about why she took that leap, the importance of women holding office, and how life has changed for her family—husband Brendan Sexton, who works as a union political director, and the couple’s two boys, Benjamin, 6, and Tomás, 4, both students at P.S. 69—since she threw her hat into the ring.

ON HER OPPONENT’S PARTY SWITCH: “I was in the room during Jose Peralta’s town hall meeting right after he made the announcement. I don’t think I ever stopped shaking my head. I voted for him as a Democrat. He was the second Latino official elected in Queens. I saw how he had managed to make the system a little more inclusive of us. I looked up to him! With our country at this critical juncture, how and why on earth would you empower Republicans in the state government? I was in utter disbelief. I felt particularly betrayed and duped.”

WHEN HER POLITICAL AMBITION WAS SPARKED: “It started in earnest that September. I got the boys’ supply list for school, and of course there were items you expect on there: markers and notebooks and things like that. But in talking with my mom friends, I realized the supply lists also included things like toilet paper and big bottles of hand sanitizer. I found it disconcerting that parents—who pay taxes and support schools in so many other ways—are also expected to purchase a school’s essential hygiene items.

“So I started doing research on my own about public-school funding. And I discovered that my kids’ school is actually owed $1.8 million from a state program called Foundation Aid. My state senator wasn’t making a peep about it. I started thinking,You know what? This is unbelievable.”

New York State Senate candidate Jessica Ramos (D) at a press conference

THE PERSON WHO NUDGED HER TO RUN: “It was really my mom who looked at me and said, ‘You love your neighborhood and your community. You have government experience. Why don’t you think about running?’

“And I, of course, was like, ‘Mom, you’re nuts.’ I guess I wasn’t thinking that way, and part of me was surprised to hear it from my mom. She’s very civically minded. She’s a news junkie, and she knows what’s going on. But I never thought of her as politically in tune at that level. Then I remembered an adage someone told me a long time ago: Badass mothers give birth to badass daughters. Someone needs to hold my state senator accountable. Why not me?”

Jessica Ramos, running for New York State Senate in Queens' district 13

It’s so important for me to show my boys what a strong woman looks like, what a strong woman does.

HER KIDS’ REACTION TO HER CANDIDACY: “When I told the boys I would be running for office, Benjamin, the 6-year-old, looked at me with his eyes popped open and said, ‘Wow, like the mayor?’ Tomás doesn’t quite understand yet. He’s a very happy 4-year-old who loves to talk to his neighbors—a real ham.

“Honestly, I get emotional when I think about it. It’s so important for me to show my boys what a strong woman looks like, what a strong woman does. I want to show them that it’s everybody’s duty to stand up for our neighbors. It’s also about building a better future. There’s that inner gut instinct as a mother that says, No one messes with my kids.”

THE RIDICULOUS THING PEOPLE KEEP ASKING: “I’ve had people—even those who are supportive of me—ask how I’m going to juggle being a mother and being a legislator. I get that pretty often. My response is simple: Fathers have done it for centuries, and so can I. Next question!”

HOW HOME LIFE HAS CHANGED: “Brendan and I have had to create a tighter system in order to make sure we’re getting it all done. We try to create a schedule that balances everything, but it doesn’t always pan out. I’m all over the place right now. Fundraisers, community meetings—those all happen in the evenings. My mom has stepped up tremendously to help. She picks up the boys from school, heats up the dinner I prepped. She’ll help with projects. Sometimes the apartment has fallen a little behind, and she’ll come up and help us with that. It takes a village.”

WHY MORE WOMEN SHOULD RUN: “Often women don’t think they are qualified to run for office. Most women are. Every woman—and especially every mother—should look in the mirror and ask themselves if they have it in them to serve.

“I would say it starts with the love of others. It’s believing in the collective good. It’s talking to your neighbors and seeing if you have the skills to organize and advocate for them. If you’re the type of person who has ideas on how to make things better, then at the lowest levels you should join your community board, start your own organization. Maybe you should run for your school board; maybe you should be a council member; maybe you should run for governor. There’s a place for everyone in public service, and we need more mothers to step up.”

To learn more about Jessica Ramos’ platform, visit her campaign page.

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