A nonprofit dedicated to training Democratic women to run for public office will wrap up its inaugural course Saturday, and five Montgomery County residents are among the first wave of graduates.
It might not be long before some of them hit the campaign trail for 2014.
Emerge Maryland is a nonprofit program that provides 70 hours of coaching in messaging, strategy, fund-raising and other aspects of campaigning during the course six months.
Among the first cohort of 21 women is Wendy Cohen of Bethesda, who says she’s “looking seriously” at running for a District 16 delegate seat and has begun talking to current elected officials to get the lay of the land.
The timing might be fortuitous because two of the three delegate seats could be up for grabs in next year’s election. Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Chevy Chase and Del. C. William Frick of Bethesda have expressed interest in running for attorney general. Del. Susan C. Lee of Bethesda has said she will seek Frosh’s Senate seat if he doesn’t run for re-election.
Cohen, who has a background in public health and currently is a vice president at the American Gastroenterological Association, says two of her top priorities are improving access to preventive health services for the uninsured and underinsured, and improving public education.
Emerge Maryland is designed to boost the representation of both women in general and women of color in elected office, said Diane Fink, the organization’s executive director.
“I feel very good about what we’ve put together,” Fink said. “I think we’re going to see a different quality of candidate.”
The cohort also includes two women who immigrated to the U.S., learned English when they arrived and became active in their communities.
Natalia Farrar of Rockville came to the area from Russia in the mid-1990s and got involved in the PTA, the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board and the District 19 Democratic Club. She said the program drove home some of the difficulties of running for office, such as asking people for money and being a self-assured public speaker.
“It gave me some clarity, but it also scared me,” she said.
Farrar said she was initially planning to run for a District 19 delegate seat in 2014, but now thinks she will wait a few years until her children, aged 6 and 8, are a little older, and she will have more time to focus on a campaign.
Mimi Hassanein of Brinklow, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1968, says education is the key to integrating in a society. She’s contemplating a run for the school board, where she wants to focus on closing the achievement gap for minority students.
Bernice North of Takoma Park, an Anne Arundel County prosecutor, and Beth Daly of Dickerson, who works in advertising at Telemundo, are the other Montgomery County members.
North said she has no immediate plans to run for office but took part in the program to network with other women interested in public service.
Daly said she’s considering a run for office at the local level, with an eye toward improving management of the county’s growth.
A key element of the program was for the women in each cohort to bond and work together, creating support system for when they start running for office, Fink said.
Maryland is one of 12 states across the country with an “Emerge” program, and Fink said the next cohort of about 20 will begin its classes in October and end in April, so the graduates can still “hit the ground running” if they want to run in the June 2014 primary.