By Orrin Konheim
As Falls Church City Councilmember Letty Hardi was preparing to preside over a ribbon-cutting ceremony she had dropped off her two eldest kids but didn’t have her husband home from work yet to take her five-year-old-son Noah off her hands. The only amenable solution was to take him with her.
“Unfortunately, or fortunately, all my kids have been to a number of different city events, as a result of me having to bring them along,” said Hardi.
Being a mother of three young children is a full-time job for the city council member, but she’s not alone. Hardi and fellow council members Karen Oliver and Marybeth Connelly are all mothers at different stages of raising kids and acknowledge that their role as parents heavily influenced their decision to enter the political sphere.
Hardi, who was elected in 2016, became involved in city politics a couple years ago by attending meetings. It was the difficulty she had in balancing her duties as a parent with evening council meetings that prompted her to consider running.
“If it’s 7:30, most parents of young children are putting their kids to bed,” said Hardi, whose other two sons, Griffin and Oliver, are now 7 and 9. “Given how important local government is, and the only ones who show up are often retired people, I wanted to represent a different demographic.”
Connelly, vice mayor of Falls Church, had a similar epiphany when she ran in 2013. Although her kids were teenagers and she had no trouble attending the meetings, she decided that it was important for there to be a mother with children in the school system on the council.
“It was school funding and my work that brought me there first, but I was also paying attention to budgeting and where the money was going,” Connelly said. “It’s always been intriguing to me how government works.”
Oliver’s desire to run stemmed from the transient nature of her life as the wife of a foreign correspondent before she and her family settled down in Falls Church in 2011. Due to the limitations of work permits in other countries, she often could not obtain paid employment so she devoted her time to creating a community for her family, and uses that experience to improve the surroundings of the Little City.
“I don’t think I’m any more of an expert on schools or kids than anyone else, but I do know the kind of values that I hold.” said Oliver. “For example, I’m personally opposed to smoking tobacco so I would never work for a cigarette company. In that vein, I want to do things with my time that my kids would be excited about.”
Hardi’s interest in local politics came as she transitioned from working in a bank to being a stay-at-home mom. A first generation immigrant who is proud to have voted in every election since she turned 18, she focused her political interests at the local level. Her kids were too young to understand the full extent of their mother’s campaigning when she was putting up yard signs but she sees them becoming more aware about the effects of local government.
“They certainly don’t think it’s a big deal anymore when their mother is on the front page of the newspaper,” said Hardi, who often takes them to board meetings with snacks and drawing paper in tow.
Hardi’s work for the City Council has been coupled with an increased sense of activism and she has taken her kids to protests and rallies as well. She wants to see her kids be active voters as adults.
“I hold a high bar for myself and a high bar for my children as well,” said Hardi. “This is a great way for them to see that having a voice matters, so if they see something they don’t like, they should try to change it.”
Connelly was not just an active citizen but was (and still is) the community outreach director for Falls Church City Public Schools. Connolly’s entry into her public role wasn’t solely about her involvement in education but a larger interest in government.
Connelly credits her three kids — Brian, Andrew and Julie — for supporting her campaign, and passes her experience on to them. She likes to think Brian, the oldest, encouraged friends to vote for her when he was a high school senior. Similarly, Julie is the vice president of her sophomore class and her mother provided feedback on her speech.
Whereas many would either choose motherhood or a political career, Connelly believes that being a parent is an essential ingredient in her success on the city council.
“I became a much better employee after I had kids…because you understand compromise, you understand to be somewhere at a certain time and you know how to prioritize,” said Connelly.
Oliver wanted her decision to run to be a family decision so she explained to her daughters Sarah and Aisha (then 17 and 15) that they would need to pitch in more with household duties.
Like her fellow City Council members she doesn’t see her job as just being an expert on the schools, which she cites as especially relevant now that her kids have graduated and she’s no longer a school mom.
Oliver’s kids quickly got used to the hazards of their mother being a public figure. When they helped their mother campaign by going door-to-door, they were confronted by neighbors who openly, and sometimes, aggressively disagreed with her policies.
“It was kind of illuminating for them,” Oliver added. “[But] when I was running, my kids told me that diving into the community was what I’d always done and that I should go out and see how I fit into it. I’m incredibly lucky to have their support.”