ESME’s Margot Kessler caught up with with Christina Eckert, who is
running for State Representative in Essex County, Massachusetts. Kessler and Eckert—Harvard alumni and each former members of the college’s track team—met years ago in Los Angeles, where they both worked in the
ESME’s Margot Kessler caught up with with Christina Eckert, who is running for State Representative in Essex County, Massachusetts. Kessler met Eckert years ago in Los Angeles, where they both worked in the entertainment industry. Both women also competed on Harvard’s track team during their respective tenures in college.
Q: Let’s catch up. How old are your kids, and where do you live?
A: How nice to talk to you. It’s been a crazy few years. I live in Boxford, Massachusetts, half an hour north of Boston. My youngest is 15; my oldest is 19. He’s at [the University of New Hampshire]. His younger brother Tommy is 17, and he’s a senior in high school. They’re all over six feet tall.
Q: So why is it that you’re running?
A: It’s not something I ever planned. You know I had that entertainment career, out in LA and then in New York. I pretty much gave that up to raise the kids. I mean I had the luxury of it because I had savings plus [my husband] Marcus was working. While the kids were in school, I started doing all this volunteer work, especially when we moved to Boxford. I became copresident of the PTO. I’ve run the summer park programs in town since 2007.
Q: Do you see running for office as an offshoot of this volunteer stuff?
A: Yes. The ingredients are all mixed together. I like the people I work with. I admire them. But that’s one piece of it. I’ve always voted, I’ve always cared about politics, but 2016 was devastating. I think I was literally in a fetal position for the first two days. Then I started to get involved in different groups that formed: there’s an Action Together and an Indivisible group. We started looking at local causes that we wanted to advocate for. That’s how I met my state rep, while advocating for him to sign on to a law. I had the sense that we can’t take good governance for granted—even in Massachusetts.
Q: So how did you decide to run for office?
A: It was in February and a group of us were writing postcards for Conor Lamb, and they were saying how nobody was running against my rep. And I said, “Oh, that’s my district.” Where I live is the original gerrymandered district. Even our town, our little 8,000-person town, is divided into two districts. So you never know which one you’re in. Two congressional or state congressional districts. Everyone at the table said I should run. Then a friend sent me an email with a link to Emerge America, a national group that trains women to run for office. And they were having a boot camp coming up in March.
Q: Oh, nice.
A: Then right around that time, [the high school shooting in] Parkland, Florida, happened. I’ve always been in favor of strong gun laws. The kids in our school were organizing one of the national walkouts that took place a month following the shooting. Parents were pushing back on Facebook, telling the kids that they didn’t know what they were doing, that they were just trying to get out of class, giving these kids a hard time. These poor kids are 16-year-olds trying to say, “Don’t kill us.”
Q: They’re just trying to express themselves.
A: Right, so I was kind of standing up for them on Facebook, saying we adults have failed these children. We cannot tell them they can’t walk out or protest. If we had ever done something to help them, that would be one thing, but after [the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut], we didn’t do a damn thing.
Q: Are you saying this is before the boot camp or after the boot camp?
A: This is before. And I thought, If these kids can be brave, I can be brave. And I went to the boot camp, which was terrifying, because they laid out how difficult it was going to be, and I was filled with dread. But at the same time, I thought about not doing it, and that was worse.
Q: How is your family dealing with this?
A: I would not have gone forward except Marcus was super positive. He was really encouraging. My sons are not crazy about seeing signs with my name on it all over town. That’s what we do out here—we put lawn signs out with our names on them. But they roll with it.
Q: Do you feel like part of what you’re experiencing is this wave of women supporting women?
A: Yes. I love the other women I’ve met who are running in Massachusetts. We call each other sisters.
Q: Is this part of your campaign?
A: It’s certainly a supportive part of my campaign. I’m not campaigning overtly on it because it’s a very conservative district, and there are a lot of men in it. But it’s there and I’m not hiding it, and it does help right now to be a woman. I’ll tell you, a few weeks ago [during the Christine Blasey Ford–Brett Kavanaugh] hearings? If a woman came to the door while I was canvassing, three or four times in a row I could hear the TV on in the background. And (this is very rare) they would say to me, “You’re a woman, and you’re not a Republican? I’m voting for you. I don’t know who you are, but I’m voting for you.” A couple times I’d get a guy at the door who’d say, “Well, I don’t want to hear about national politics.” And I’d say, “I’m not here to talk about national politics; I’m here to talk about local politics.” You have to gauge your answer to who answers the door. The women were definitely rage voting.
Q: So where are you in your campaign, and what do you see happening in the next month?
A: It’s such an insane time right now. Since the end of May, I have been canvassing—door knocking—at least one shift a day, if not two. We’re going for all the Independents. In Massachusetts, you can be a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent. More than 50% [of voters] are Independent. When you knock on an Independent’s door, you’re never sure what you’re going to get. I have had the door slammed in my face a few times. I’ve had people yell at me and give me long speeches about how dirty Hillary [Clinton] is. I’ve had long conversations with people who love the Second Amendment. I like to listen to other people’s point of view if I have time.
Q: Do you talk issues with people?
A: Oh, yeah, I do. I do. If I get that far, I tell them my three big issues and ask them . . .
Q: Which are . . . ?
A: The first is public education funding. Our state has a local aid foundation budget—the formula hasn’t been reworked since 1992. They tried to do it last year and didn’t agree, but it will be reworked soon and I want to be part of that. Plus there are other specific issues [within the public education category]: regional school bus transportation funding and, of course, special education funding, which is always underfunded. I want to be more of a leader toward clean renewable energy. The second issue: the Merrimack River runs through our district, and there are multiple sewer treatment plants along the river. They release raw sewage into the river every time it rains. People complain about it but don’t do anything about it. I want to basically hold them accountable and have them do something about it. I say it’s time. The third thing is we started affordable health care in Massachusetts so we can fix it. My goal is to find the solution that is going to keep prices down for everybody and help us save affordable health care.
Q: Do you line up with the Democrats with the idea of universal health care?
A: Yeah, I absolutely do, and I think that we need single payer. From everyone I’ve talked to, I think it’s really the only solution. So those are three really big issues. That’ll take a lot of work, but there are other smaller issues, everything from animal rights to LGBTQ rights. There’s a ballot question this year to repeal that law (passed in Massachusetts), unbelievably. The guy I’m running against voted against the bill two years ago. He voted against transgender rights. He’s pro choice, but he’s not LGBTQ and he’s anti-union and he’s pro gun.
Q: And he’s been there for six years.
A: Nobody ran against him the last two terms. Nobody was running against him this term until I got into it, and I got into it probably a little bit late. But he does nothing. So many doors I’m at people don’t even know who their rep is. Six years and they’ve never heard of him.
A: The impressive thing here is the way you say that there are so many women who are joining together to try to look at things differently.
A: That’s the other side of it. Women are so good at this. Because we . . . this is what we do, we take care of a household. Replace family with district. How is taking care of a household different from taking care of the House? We figure out what our families need, and we deliver it. And that’s what you do for your district, too. That’s what I tell people.
What does the district need? We’ll go get it for them. I will work with other people, and we will put this together just like we do on the PTO board or whatever and we will get this particular thing done.
I really don’t think women have the same kind of egos as men because they don’t care who gets credit as long as the work gets done. There’s a collaborative attitude there. There’s an ego-free attitude. So I think women are especially suited for this job, for not aggrandizing the situation, for just going out there and delivering for their quote-unquote family.
There are barriers for women doing this even though women are suited. Massachusetts (which you would think is a more forward thinking state) has not had more than 25% of women in the legislature ever. There are 34 women out of 160 who are state reps now.
Q: It seems like you started wanting to do something out of anger and now it’s turned into positive energy. Correct me if I’m wrong.
A: Emerge told me that it was going to be tough, but you have no idea how tough it’s going to be until you start doing it. Then you are too far down the tunnel to stop [laughs]. It’s definitely positive energy when you’re feeling . . . when things suck, like the Kavanaugh thing, and you go out canvassing and you talk to people, you definitely feel better. National Grid, our electric and gas company, locked out 1,200 workers in July, and some of them have been canvassing with me. They’re very frustrated that they can’t go to work.
Q: Is this a union issue?
A: It’s a union issue. They were locked out not by the company that had the gas explosions but another one next door. And not only were they locked out but their health insurance was cut off. I have gone and brought them food at the picket line, and somehow they heard that I was a writer so they asked for my help in rewriting a letter to the editor. I was like, “Well, I can do that!” They were talking about making presentations about canceling any nonemergency gas work until a strike is resolved. I helped them put together their Power Point for that. I know from doing the Power Point that they know their stuff. They’re not being pulled back to work, and it makes them crazy. One of the guys showed up to go canvassing with me. At the end, he says, “You know, you’re right. I really do feel better.” That made me feel good because I had made one guy’s day better.
Q: You always were the queen of positive energy.
A: [Laughs] I don’t know about that, but I can’t sit still. I can’t wallow. I have to move forward. We’ll see. . . . Here’s the funny thing. Here’s how he [her opponent] campaigns. He has a white Cadillac. He puts his sign on top of it, and he parks it on busy streets in various towns all day long. And then he leaves. The day of the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, it was parked on the busiest street in my town, and I had to drive past it to get to the highway. It was just insult to injury, but it’s the epitome of the difference between us. He just parks. I’m out there knocking on doors.
Editor’s note (11/9/18): Despite a hard-fought campaign, Eckert ultimately lost to her opponent by a slim margin. As she posted on Facebook following the election results, “Tonight, we lost a very close race, but I am not discouraged. I will continue serving my community and doing what I can to help our district.” Interestingly, Tram Nguyen, a fellow Massachusetts Democrat who was part of Eckert’s EMERGE group, unseated her opponent, a Republican incumbent, to become the state representative in the 18th Essex District.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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