Virtual happy hour connects Online Executive MPA
Executive M.P.A. students,
faculty and alumni toasted each other during a recent virtual networking happy
hour as they listened to three current students share insights about pursuing
and working in elected office.
At 25 participants, turnout for the late summer event
was a bit higher than the typical 15, said Nell Silva Bartkowiak, program
director. Several students and one of three panelists Zoomed in from the West
Coast, and one alum from Madagascar was on the video call.
Bartkowiak, program director, has hosted the online
discussion—BYOB, of course—since the spring of 2018, shortly after the program
launched online. The quarterly event nurtures networking among participants in
Maxwell's 30-credit, online program for professionals with at least five years’
experience in management. It also encourages members of different cohorts to
Lucas Frerichs (January ’21 cohort), who is amid his
third four-year term as vice mayor of Davis, California, kicked off the panel
discussion. He previously worked in the California state legislature but was
drawn to working on local issues.
“If I can survive the politics of the Davis food
co-op, pretty much anything after that is a piece of cake,” he joked, speaking
about his decision to run for a city council position in 2012. He counts
lowering city taxes and supporting a water infrastructure project as
accomplishments of his council work.
Nily Rozic (July ’20 cohort), is in her ninth year
representing New York’s 25th Assembly District. “I was always into public service,”
she said. Her high school’s “ethos was 'leave your city better than you found
She was elected to New York’s Assembly in 2012. She
serves on the Assembly’s Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and has
worked on workforce development programs and chaired the Task Force on Women’s
Issues and the Assembly’s Office on State-Federal Relations.
The third panelist, Michael Rathbun (July ’21 cohort),
served one term on the Franklin Borough, New Jersey, council. He worked on the
city’s public safety, ordinance and budget committees.
Panelists talked about building coalitions, finding
common ground and navigating political polarization — even on local issues. Frustrated
and angry constituents; hate mail; and stress go with the job, they agreed.
Elected officials “need a strong backbone or strong
moral code or set of norms that you were elected with that you have to stick
by,” Rozic said. “For better or worse, the voters trusted you, to make the rest
of judgment calls and you have to do that.”
Despite the typical challenges of public office—compounded
by today’s hyper-partisanship and the COVID-19 pandemic—Freirichs remains
optimistic about democracy and public service. “I think there’s a lot of hope
for the future,” he said. “I’m fundamentally a believer in the power of
government and what it can do. I just try to be a good role model and be
responsive to concerns and try to make a difference where I can.”