In law school classes nearly four decades ago, a student found her passion for enacting change through law and politics.
Thirty-six years later, she’s running for a seat in Congress – And her run could bring her back to the District. The alumna has received campaign help from her son, who followed in her footsteps by attending law school at GW.
Democrat Susan Wild, who graduated from the law school in 1982, is the only female in the race for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District – an open seat to replace Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, who has served seven terms in Congress. The Democratic primary is May 15 and, if successful, Wild will move on to the general election Nov. 6.
Wild said her time in the classroom studying public interest law got her interested in politics, and professors she had while in law school really sparked that interest.
“It’s a natural progression from what I learned there to where I am now,” she said. “It’s all about bringing about positive change and working for others, which is really the role model that professors set in my classes at GW.”
Wild said law professor John Banzhaf inspired her when she was a student because he involved students in the cases he was working on at the time. When Wild was a student, Banzhaf filed the lawsuit that resulted in a ban on smoking on airplanes and often used it as an example in class before he won the case in 1983. Through Banzhaf, Wild said she was inspired to seek out change first through the law and now through politics.
“He got us involved in things that I was intrigued by,” Wild said. “I saw the power that the law could do to change things.”
Wild, who has worked as a litigator for more than 35 years in Allentown, Pa., said the skills she’s learned in that role – like working with people in her community – have prepared her to take office.
“I just think it’s time for good, qualified people to get off the sidelines and that’s why I decided to run. It’s a good point in my career,” she said. “I decided it was time for me to get in it and accentuate some of that change I had seen as an example from Professor Banzhaf.”
Banzhaf said in an email that he did not immediately remember Wild because she took his class more than 30 years ago. After thinking about her, he said he remembers Wild as an activist and vocal student in his class.
“I seem to remember that Susan wasn’t one to blindly follow and simply parrot slogans, but one who thought through the positions she took and defended them with facts and logic – exactly what someone like me hopes for in a law student,” he said.
Wild’s son Clay decided to follow the same path as his mother. He is currently a first-year law student, but even on top of classes, he is supporting his mother’s campaign when he can by sitting in on strategy meetings and serving as a sounding board and support system for his mother.
“I’ve been happy to be there for my mom, as a son, in moments when she just needs to escape from the hustle and bustle of the campaign,” he said.
Clay Wild, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2015 and returned for law school, was encouraged by his mother to attend GW because of its location at the center of politics and near agencies and government organizations.
“Clay is very enthusiastic, but he is very frustrated that I decided to run his first year of law school,” she said. “Otherwise, he would be actively working on my campaign.”
Susan Wild added that attending law school in the nation’s capital “stoked” her interest in law and politics.
“It’s hard to be at GW and not feel that sense of immediacy about the political system,” she said.
Susan Wild said this is a “highly competitive” race and that there are five Democrats and four Republicans currently running. One of the Democrats, Bill Leiner, dropped out of the race Thursday and has endorsed Susan Wild.
Susan Wild is running for an open seat left by Dent, a “moderate Republican by today’s standards,” she said. Due to redistricting, Susan Wild is running for District 7 of Pennsylvania, formerly District 15, which includes Lehigh Valley, Northampton County and Monroe County.
She became involved with this race at a time when it looked like a difficult “uphill battle” because the district has voted in Republicans since Pat Toomey, now one of the state’s two senators, was elected to the seat in 1998. Now, this area is seen as one that could flip the seat from Republican to Democrat and possibly have influence on the makeup of the Republican-majority House of Representatives.
“It wasn’t targeted as one to flip to blue until redistricting occurred,” she said. “I wanted to get in it, and I felt that I could win a very good race.”