Prizm News / January 1, 2018 / By Mary B. Relotto
If she’s elected in November, Mary B. Relotto will change the portrait of the typical Ohio lawmaker. The Columbus Democrat is running in a state House district that includes Clintonville, Upper Arlington, Hilliard and areas of western Franklin County. (Prizm photos by Staley Munroe)

If there’s a silver lining to the nightmare of 2016, it’s in the determination of equality-minded Americans to step up and seek public office.

 

By Mary B. Relotto

I never considered running for office. In fact, over the past 10 years or so when friends would suggest it, and I would jokingly respond, “I wouldn’t pass the vetting process!”

My doubt wasn’t in my background, and it certainly wasn’t in my desire to serve people. But having never run for political office, I questioned my patience to actually participate in a campaign, and when in office, my patience to wait for change.

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The one thing about running that excited me most was the chance to represent people, to give them a voice and fight for change.

Understanding my past will allow you to understand why running for office is the most important thing I will ever do in my lifetime.

I spent the first 2½ years of my life in an orphanage in Italy. I didn’t have access to much, an environment where I could thrive or to people who could advocate on my behalf.

Eventually I was adopted into an Italian-American family and brought to America, where I grew up in a small, ethnic town on the Ohio River where families—including mine—thrived working in the steel and coal industries.

For a moment, I no longer felt voiceless, alone and afraid. I had people in my life who would love me, care for me and be my first champions. My parents.

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“I can no longer sit idly by, watching the current government strip from us our right to live freely, equally and with dignity.”
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Both of my parents worked more than one job to pay the bills and to give my brother and me a good education. I had 12 years of Catholic schooling and graduated from Ohio University with a degree in journalism and public relations.

During university, I held two jobs, one of which was work/study, completed several internships and relied on grants to help along the way. At an early age, thanks to my parents, who wanted better for me than what they had, I understood and practiced a good work ethic. I never took for granted the opportunity to have a good education.

While I knew I had the knowledge, will and desire to thrive, I didn’t have access to role models or advocates during my school years who could inspire, challenge and champion me to be my best. If they existed, I had no idea where to find them. Sure, I had my parents, but I needed more as I prepared for my future.

 

But like many Americans today who don’t feel they have a champion in their corner, someone who will listen, advocate for them and give them access to the resources they need to thrive, I still had hope.

What I didn’t have growing up, I wanted to make sure no one went without, because I came to understand the power

(Photos courtesy of Mary B. Relotto)

of being mentored and mentoring, having an advocate stand on your behalf to champion your every dream.

I dedicated my professional life to championing and advocating for social services whose missions serve some of the most marginalized groups of people: the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, low-income families and women, many of whom don’t feel as if their voices are heard.

They lack access to advocates. They most definitely don’t have access to public servants who work on their behalf.

Then my passion to advocate became a bit more personal. I began speaking to women, like myself, who had dreams of owning their own businesses but lacked the support, know-how and resources to make it happen. In 2007, I created a business community called Dames Bond to provide women who want to start a business with the resources and networking opportunities to thrive.

It was a very proud moment for me when Dames Bond was recognized by Forbes and Money magazines for providing unique networking events and the only all-female business directory free to consumers.

Interestingly, I had a lot of female artisans who wanted to be a part of the business community. I had to figure out how to get their products noticed and in the hands of consumers, so I opened the Dames Bond Marketplace, a first-of-its-kind retail consignment shop that showcased products made solely by women.   

Continuing my passion to champion women, in 2016 I created Speaking of Gender, a citizen action group that champions gender balance and equality. Our mission is simple: to ensure that women are included in leadership and speaking roles in professional and public programs.

And then the election happened.

It’s a nightmare that haunts me to this day. I never felt so afraid for our futures, especially women, the GLBTQ community and people of color. And while the thought of politics still confused and frightened me, I knew I had to step up, get involved and figure out how to get America back again. Even through the devastation, I still had hope.

A year ago, when the Women’s March on Washington was being organized, I helped fill two coach buses and created a rolling workshop to educate and inspire all 120 people traveling with us. We had speakers such as former U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of Columbus, state Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo, a social worker, a counselor and a police officer, all to support “why” we were going, “how” to be safe and “what” we could bring back to Ohio.

We wanted to create change, advocate for the health and safety of females, and for women to have the freedom and right of choice.

During the march, I witnessed over a million women, men and children of all races and backgrounds gather to lend their voices and be heard. To say I was incredibly moved doesn’t touch the surface. To this day, thoughts of the march give me chills and an overwhelming sense of emotion and pride.

As we left D.C., I felt a greater sense of hope for America’s future, but I still couldn’t help but wonder how many would return home without an advocate and champion, voiceless, alone and afraid.

I came back to Columbus more compelled than ever to get involved on a larger scale and to create a platform where people not only feel they have a voice, but an advocate to champion change.

If running for office was imminent, I had a lot to learn and fast.

I am running for state representative in District 24, which includes the Clintonville area of Columbus, Upper Arlington, Hillard, and western Franklin County.

In fact, I’m so passionate about working for the people, my partner and I purposefully bought a home and moved into this district so that I could run. I can no longer sit idly by, watching the current government strip from us our right to live freely, equally and with dignity.

I am going to be a representative who engages the community. I’ll be a voice of the district who works on legislation and connects Ohio citizens to resources that can improve their quality of life.

I plan to establish relationships on both sides of the aisle. I will focus on equal pay, providing a living wage, race and gender equality and, most certainly, building the economy one small business at a time.

Gone are the days when people feel voiceless, alone and afraid for our future.