So how did a Wyoming Area High School swimmer go from being too freaked out to run for a high school student council office because it meant making a speech, to knocking on thousands of doors in Pittsburgh in a successful campaign for Pennsylvania State Senate in her first try for a political office?
Lindsey Williams, 38, grew up in Wyoming. She ran cross country and track and swam for the Lady Warriors. She laughed when she talked about her swim coach, Christa Coolbaugh.
“I loved being on the swim team. She was a hard coach but fair. One day she said when we were done swimming laps we’d do something easy. She had us go to the diving board area and try to grab a watermelon. It was a water polo drill and it was quite a work out,” she recalled.
Her parents, Jack and Nancy, raised her with a work ethic and a respect for workers rights. Her father was a union operating engineer. Williams graduated from Dickinson in 2005 with a political science and sociology degree and from Duquesne University Law School in 2008.
“When I got out of law school in 2008,” she said, “the economy was pretty bad and I had a difficult time finding a job. I moved to Washington, D.C. for a job with the National Whistleblowers Center then boomeranged back to Pittsburgh to work for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers as communications and political director.”
She liked her traditional law firm jobs during law school, but it was too much screen time.
“I need some more human interaction instead of being on a computer. I was working on cases protecting workers — health and safety laws, wage laws — but I never spent time with the workers I was representing.”
So how did she wind up running for the state senate?
“I started off volunteering for a host of candidates,” she said.
She was living in the 38th district, an amalgam of townships in the North Hills and two wards of Pittsburgh, and towns along the Allegheny River. Though she had never run for office before, knowing Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the district in 2016, Williams, well, as she put it, took a plunge in 2018.
“It was my first run and I jumped into the deep end of the pool.” This time without the watermelon.
She signed up for Emerge PA, a program that trains Democratic women to run for office. She knocked on doors. Thousands of them. She loved talking to people on their porches and in their kitchens and still does. “As a sitting senator I’ve knocked doors for other candidates,” she said.
She got out as much as she could. A couple hours a day during the week and “on the weekend until it was too dark to see. When the political attack ads would get tough, my manager would joke you need to go knock on doors and talk to real people. It always made me feel better.”
The door-to-door campaign worked. With no name recognition in the beginning, she squeaked out a win by 793 votes — 62, 361 to 61,568.
All office holders have to endure critics, but she doesn’t get down.
“At staff meetings we talk about the positive moment of the week. A lot of times it’s helping people with unemployment benefits. After months and months of pandemic unemployment, when we are able to help someone we celebrate a little.”