For Balter, 'everything changed' after Trump's election in 2016
There is a record setting wave of candidates running for political office this year. Most are women, and most of them are Democrats. Two are running for the Democratic nomination in the 24th Congressional District, which covers all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and the western part of Oswego County.
Juanita Perez Williams and Dana Balter face off in a primary Tuesday to determine who will face incumbent Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) in November.
This is the first time Balter has ever run for office, and she didn’t come from a political family. But a path to public service started at her home in Connecticut. Her older brother struggled with cognitive disabilities, and that ultimately led her to work for non-profits that provide services to adults with cognitive disabilities. It was then she realized the barriers those individuals face.
"In order to make real progress on a larger scale, we had to figure out how to address those barriers," said Balter. "I decided that studying policy and working with policy was the way to do that."
Which brought Balter, 42, back to Syracuse University’s Maxwell School as a visiting assistant teaching professor, but not as a candidate for political office.
"I thought about it as maybe a second act in life. Much later," she said.
Then Donald Trump was elected president.
"Everything changed," she said. "The needs that I wanted to stand up for and wait for became so much more urgent. And I couldn’t wait anymore."
Balter said she’s taken to the world of politics. She loves meeting people and discussing issues in living rooms, rallies, and public events across the four county district.
"The part I don’t like is the fact that our political system is tied up with big money. Which is something that I knew, but I didn’t’ have a full enough appreciation for it until I ran for office," she said.
Which is why she has put campaign finance reform at the top of the issues dear to her.
"For me, day one in office, this is the issue to be working on ," she said. "Because getting money out of politics unlocks our ability to make progress on every other issue."
If there’s one misperception out there, she says it’s the whispers that she’s not enough of a fighter to take on a two-term incumbent. "My mother calls it stubbornness, I call it perseverance," she said. "I can not be deterred from doing what I think is right. If there is anybody who is ready to go toe to toe with John Katko, for the things he’s done, and more importantly the things he hasn’t done, it’s me."
Read our profile of Balter's opponent, Juanita Perez Williams, and listen to their recent debate on the Campbell Conversations.