“Restore, Empower, Promote,” is Gannon University student Selena King’s campaign slogan in her run for the Erie City Council.
King, a senior liberal arts major with a concentration in social work and communications and a minor in organizational leadership, said the reason she was running for City Council was to become more involved in the Erie community and to increase the diversity of Erie’s local government, especially after the only female member of the council will finish her term by the end of this year.
The 32-year-old Sharon native is the daughter of a public school superintendent and a union steel worker, the second oldest of six girls and the mother of 9-year-old Jaden and 3-year-old Ethan.
King, a registered Democrat, is one of seven candidates – only one of whom is a Republican – competing for the four vacant spots in the council. If King finishes among the top four Democrats in the May primary, she will advance to the November general election.
King said running for City Council will enable her to promote the cultural diversity of Erie and restore the people’s trust in local government.
“There are a lot of people who are leery of their government officials and leaders,” King said. “All we need to bring unity and have people work better together is to bring the trust back in local government.”
Another goal King said she will try to achieve is empowering Erie’s youth through education and jobs.
“As much of a cliché as it is – the youth are our future and our tomorrow,” King said. “I am concerned about my classmates who want to live in Erie but can’t stay because there aren’t any jobs to fit the field they are in.”
King said she hopes to pass several programs to achieve her goal including a mentoring program in collaboration with Erie’s law enforcement agencies to guide high school children after they graduate.
In addition to the mentoring program, King said she would like to implement a summer-job program for the kids in Erie.
“I am a mother of two young children — I want to be able to have something for my sons to do once they become of age, because we do want to stay here in Erie,” King said.
By attending several City Council meetings, King said she viewed the council as “a voice for the community that works for the best interest of the citizens of Erie, dealing with the issues no one bothers with.”
King said she plans on joining the council without a definite agenda, but will work to continue the “great” work of the council that’s in place.
“I do realize that it takes four votes to pass something and I don’t want to be making promises I can’t keep,” King said.
King came to Erie in 1998 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a concentration on social work and communication and a minor in organizational leadership, and has called it home ever since.
“Erie is a larger version of Sharon, my hometown,” King said. “When I came here it reminded me of home.”
King was born into politics, as her great-grandfather was a politician, her grandfather was a city councilman and her mother is a school board director. She was also encouraged by some of her friends who are part of the political system themselves, one of whom is Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, a Democrat from Erie, who met King when she volunteered in Bizzarro’s campaign for state office.
“She’s incredibly dedicated to this community and is determined in her efforts to make Erie and its people thrive,” Bizzarro said.
King said obtaining degrees in the fields she has chosen will help her in her run and allow her to learn how to communicate with people but also to learn the nonverbal clues people send.
“I think it’s really important to have that type of background so I can be a voice for people who normally don’t have a voice and who are not paid as much attention to, like those committed in mental health institutions.
“My education also allows me to know how to better have structure and learn not only how to lead but to have other people working underneath you that not only follow you but also train them how to lead, too.”
King’s work and community involvement also provided her with the background to join the political sphere.
In addition to working in the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania, King serves on the Community Advisory Board in the Erie School District. She worked with the first Hispanic Heritage Festival in September.
King is also a leadership facilitator in the Leaders in Training for Tomorrow (LIFT) program at Wayne School, which helps at-risk girls – dealing with social and psychological issues like poverty, and who lack stability and structure in their lives – with their academic progress all the way through 12th grade.
King’s leadership and participation in the community were recognized by Gannon Tuesday, as she was nominated for the national “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges” award.
Parris Baker, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Gannon’s social work program, said King was tenacious, perseverant and dedicated first and foremost as a mother then a student, community activist and a City Council candidate.
“What do we call single moms who are kicking butt?” Baker said. “She’s dogmatic and pushy, which are all qualities required for someone in the position she’s seeking.”
Baker, who has known King for more than 12 years, said King is a people motivator, a strong communicator and fundraiser and an excellent team player.
“No one person can fix the world,” Baker said. “But you have to work in collaboration and know your lane – then you can excel in it.”
Bizzarro said his advice to King as she embarks on this endeavour is to be true to herself but always respect other people’s opinions, too.
He said that while everyone might not always agree on how to serve the community, “We all strive to have the community at heart.”
King’s friends describe her as dedicated, including Landis Erwin, who met King at Gannon and formed an instant relationship found on mutual interests.
Erwin, who is now the marketing manager at the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, was officially part of King’s campaign for City Council but had resigned because she was unable to give it the time it needed, yet remains a strong advocate for King’s pursuit.
“With [Selena’s] positive attitude and drive for change, I knew this would be a great thing to be a part of,” Erwin said. “This community will be so fortunate to have her.”
After graduating in May, King will pursue a master’s degree in public administration starting fall of 2013.
King described herself as detail- oriented, selfless and compassionate toward other people’s needs.
“I believe in the greatness the city has and could have,” King said. “I will make sure that people are being represented and are getting what they need.”
This article by Hiba Almasari originally published in The Gannon Knight on Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013.