Washington, D.C.’s new Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau is a rising leader who has been active in civic and religious life in the District of Columbia. Moment’s Miriam Edelman talks to her about how her Jewish upbringing and background helped shape her career.
Q: Were you involved in the Jewish community when you were growing up?
A: I come from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which has a very small Jewish community. My family was involved with the Grosse Pointe Jewish Council. I went to Hebrew school, but we didn’t have our own synagogue. We came together for high holidays and occasionally for Shabbat. But it was something that I was really always drawn to. I loved that sense of community, and that’s what eventually led me to seek it out as an adult. Judaism provided a context for the values that I was raised with. The idea of tikkun olam and tzedek, or social justice, most compelled me throughout my life, and that’s what has drawn me to public service in its various forms. The way I think about the issues is really through that lens of social justice and caring about vulnerable people and believing that until we address these problems for others, that we have not completed our work, and I think that that’s very Jewish.
Q: What is the role of Judaism in your life now?
A: I belong to an egalitarian prayer community called DC Minyan. Until last year I served on the board of Jews United for Justice, and we’re focused on local issues, but really bringing that Jewish lens to them. I occasionally blog for www.interfaithfamily.com, and I recently blogged for Hillel’s “Ask Big Questions” about the election. (I come from an interfaith family; My father is Catholic, and my mother is Jewish.) I worked at Hillel right after college and also found great connections to Judaism that way.
Q: How did you first become interested in politics?
A: I was raised in a family that was always engaged in progressive causes and with candidates. At age 11, I volunteered on a school board race. I went door-to-door, and I talked to voters about the candidate, and that really had me hooked. I worked on campaigns in pretty much every cycle since then. I always felt electoral politics and political engagement was a very obvious way of changing the game and advocating for those in need.
Q: What brought you to D.C.?
A: I moved here right after college. I always wanted to live here in Washington. I felt like this was the center of change. If you want to do big things and help others, you should be here in the nation’s capital.
Q: What bills do you plan on introducing in the D.C. Council?
A: I have a team working on sketching out our priorities, and I know we’re going to have a strong focus on affordable housing, education, cleaning up government. We’ll have to see whether that manifests itself in new legislation or whether it’s a strong oversight role or tweaks to existing legislation.
Q: What are your main goals while serving?
A: There’s a few beyond the legislative. We are working to rebuild the civic-engagement structures in the ward so that people feel like they’re a part of what is happening and that they are giving their time and expertise to our problem-solving. We want folks to join meetings, but also to run initiatives, volunteer in schools and offer their ideas for how we can solve issues in the District. We want there to be a free-flow of information but also a network of people who feel like they’re helping move the ward forward. I feel that that’s something we’ve not done here in a long time. We’re also going to work on our constituent services. We want to help empower people to use the system in place and to help us identify where the system is broken. It won’t only be calling us up to solve problems, but it will also be helping us figure out what was broke down and where we should be intervening.
Q: What from your experiences as a Congressional staffer will you bring to the D.C. Council?
A: I learned quite a few things from my prior boss, Congressman [John] Sarbanes [D-MD]. What he taught me was the importance of using what you’re hearing from your constituents and thinking about common themes and about long-term solutions to the issues that are happening back to the district or to the ward. That’s what I’m going to be trying to do and bring that lens to the work. The other thing is to just always being aware of any consequences to the legislation you’re drafting because a lot of times, we are very well intentioned, but we don’t realize the unintended consequences. That’s always going to be a focus for me is how we look at the way a bill is implemented and make sure that we’re avoiding those unintended consequences.
Q: What do you see as major priorities for the D.C. Council?
A: I think that the biggest priority across the District is really affordable housing, making sure we got enough housing for those people who live here now and also those who are coming. In the next ten years, many people will move to the District.
The affordable housing crisis is happening across the country in major cities. I know that other major cities are addressing this issue, but the stability that you have when you have housing, when you become a home-owner is something that leads to stability in all other parts of your life, and that’s the goal. That’s the American dream. We have to make sure we’re giving everyone a chance to achieve it.
The other is ensuring that every child in our public school system gets an education that prepares them for the world, and that that education does not depend on what part of the District the child lives in or how lucky he or she is in the lottery.