Today Gail Conner announced her candidacy for the 7th congressional district, joining State Rep. Bryan Lentz (who formally kicks off his campaign this Thursday) and Teresa Touey on the Democratic ballot for the open seat now held by Joe Sestak. Her campaign announcement can be found on her campaign website: www.conner4congress.com (another site, www.gailmconner.com seems to be primarily devoted to her book, Healing Parties, which is not political but focuses on her life philosophy).
Conner is a lawyer, specializing in environment law and real estate law. She also founded, owns and runs a company called G & C Environmental Services. The campaign site lists her participation in state advisory boards relating to environmental concerns. She was an Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention last summer in Denver.
Ten years ago she described her business in this way:
The Newtown Square, Pennsylvania-based company provides environmental engineering and industrial hygiene services to commercial, governmental, industrial, municipal and institutional organizations.
Before a building can be remodeled or major construction performed, Conner and her 10 employees go in and assess for dangerous chemicals such as lead and asbestos, estimate the contamination and then recommend companies to do the cleanup. Oftentimes, her firm will go in where larger environmental firms have proved ineffective, correct the problem and then teach the client how to implement the new solution. (Hayes)
Her book, Healing Parties is summarized as:
This book has an underlying message of healing through reconciliation, and is a roadmap for those who are blessed to live in the 21st century. Indeed, Gail provides a message of emotional freedom for all of us - regardless of race, creed, color, economic status, or how you or your ancestors arrived upon this land that we love and cherish.
Gail shares her surprising coping mechanisms for handling life's challenges during desegregation in the rural south and the role it played in her future. Thus, Healing Parties was born and has merged her past and her future. She hopes that her unique experiences will encourage you to successfully manage the challenges in your life.
Conner has not held elective office before. Nor does she have a long record of political contributions, at least at a level that show up on reports. She donated to Obama and to one state level candidate; those are the only two donations I can find, though there may be others.
Conner’s work for Obama did bring her into contact with the local community and she has (or does?) have a nonprofit called Garden of Dreams, though I’m not sure what the organization’s mission was (is?). However, her business does 90% of its business outside of Pennsylvania (Hayes) which means she may not be able to count on her professional network for campaign donations. One of her in state jobs was at the Philadelphia airport (Burton), which may imply some political connections. More recently, even with her work for Obama, she was sometimes at odds with the state party, as witnessed by her comments on getting tickets for the inauguration:
Of course it wasn't cheap, and Conner bemoaned the price and lack of help from the state Democratic Party. Conner got her ticket by virtue of being a delegate, though it was just the one, and for the standing-room-only section in the back, at that.
"It's been like that in Pennsylvania -- if you worked for Obama, you got left out," said Conner, who ran the Small Business for Obama portion of the campaign in Pennsylvania, as well as outreach for numerous colleges and townships. (Rose)
Her interaction with the Small Business Administration has been mixed. In 1998, in Black Enterprise she said:
Nonetheless, Conner says other organizations did take her to task. "Our greatest challenge came from our local Small Business Association, 11 says Conner of the SBA office in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. "We would have been a $20 million company by now without the obstacles they put in the way. They steered contracts towards a distinct few firms, while discrediting my company. We [black people] end up fighting each other over the crumbs, and then it's the other ethnic groups who end up profiting from the benefits." (Hayes)
The next year, in 1999, the SBA changed the way small businesses were certified
As a small-business owner seeking federal government contracts, Gail Conner was bothered that some businesses were allowed to simply sign a form saying they were ``disadvantaged'' businesses. She had chosen instead to receive an 8(a) designation through a Small Business Administration program, which meant paperwork, verification, and working through the agency for bids - not just her word.
But starting July 1, self-certification will no longer be an option. And companies that had been self-certified as disadvantaged will have to apply for the designation when bidding on federal contracts. (Briggs)
Whether Conner can activate a donor network and cultivate a grassroots base remains to be seen, but her entrance into the congressional race does shake things up a bit. Her environmental background is intriguing and would be very valuable in Washington, if she can get there.
Briggs, Rosland, "SBA to certify 'disadvanted' small companies," Inquirer Jan 11, 1999
Burton, Cynthia, "N.J. firm to aid city in blight project," Inquirer, July 17, 2001
Hayes, Cassanda, "Business dynamos," Black Enterprise, August 1998
Rose, Alex, "A lucky few will get to attend festivities," Delaware County Daily Times, January 14, 2009