There are many perks that come with being a congresswoman, but having an easy commute with a car and a driver isn’t one of them.
At least twice a week, U.S Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) fuels up her car and drives herself 200 miles each way between Washington D.C and the Lehigh Valley, her phone pressed between her ear and shoulder much of the time so she can safely keep two hands on the wheel.
She logs the miles — and suffers the shoulder cramps — because she says her presence in the community is as important as her presence in the halls of Congress.
The coronavirus pandemic has left communities suffering and businesses struggling, and the residents of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District are no exception. Wild, a Democrat who represents the Lehigh Valley in Congress, knows she has her work cut out for her.
As a local attorney, Wild worked for her community long before her career in Congress began. Since being elected, she’s pounded the pavement in towns in her district and navigated the halls of Congress to better understand her constituents’ needs and work to deliver solutions for them.
She said she prioritizes listening and empathizing with her constituents and her colleagues because success for her district requires bipartisanship.
Wild said she ran for Congress because of her passion for helping people with their “dinner table issues.”
“I was inspired to run to represent the working families in my district that were being left behind by Washington,” Wild said. “I saw how affordable health care, job opportunity and access to education impacted the folks in our community on a daily basis and wanted to make sure their voices were heard at the highest levels.”
Before Wild was making that drive down to the nation’s capital, she was a partner at the law firm Gross McGinley, where she practiced municipal law representing towns and cities.
Loren Speziale, Wild’s former colleague and a partner at Gross McGinley, said the congresswoman has always been a dedicated representative. Speziale believes Wild’s passion for those she represents has stayed consistent throughout the years, whether she’s working for clients or constituents.
“She was always an advocate for her clients and was able to work with the other side if a resolution could be reached,” Speziale said. “That’s why I think (her legal work) was a very natural transition into her career in politics.”
To kick off her political career, Wild ran for Lehigh County Commissioner in 2013, but lost. She then became Allentown’s first female solicitor in 2015, a position she held until resigning in 2017 to pursue a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Wild said she prides herself on being transparent and communicative with her constituents.
In the early days of the pandemic, Center Valley resident Jennifer Sartnitsky replied to a Facebook post of Wild’s in which she asked constituents about their concerns regarding the economic shutdown. Sarnitsky wrote about her worries for a gig worker friend. She said she was impressed that Wild reached out to her directly to share resources.
“I think overall she is just a very caring, compassionate person, and I think she really gets involved,” Sarnitsky said. “I know she was delivering meals on wheels during the pandemic — she gets her hands dirty. She engages with the community, and I really respect that.”
Jonathan Levin,’20, a Lehigh alum and a former intern of Wild’s, echoed these views. He said Wild’s ability to empathize with her constituents stood out to him during his time with her. Through sitting in on her meetings, he said he could see the passion she has for public service — the ability to work on behalf of others and help them when they need it.
“She is always trying to understand what her constituents are going through, whether that be a business owner who’s struggling with something or someone who is having issues getting Medicaid, whatever it is,” Levin said. “She is just able to relate and get on their level.”
Levin said his experience working for Wild influenced him to also pursue a career in public service, and he said he hopes to have a career in government one day.
As well as serving the people of the 7th District, Wild works closely with other local government office holders.
Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez appreciates Wild’s efforts in that regard. He believes that in a national emergency such as a global pandemic, federal government representatives should take the lead.
“Susan, even prior to when she was elected to Congress, was someone who was very involved in her community,” Donchez said. “She’s a very good listener — she gets out there and listens to other people’s points of view, and I think that makes her effective.”
Having to work with politicians with diverse opinions, Wild also deploys her listening skills in the chambers of Congress.
Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District is split in political affiliation, and Wild said if she didn’t know how to work across the aisle, she couldn’t truly get anything done for her district. Wild replaced former Republican Rep. Charlie Dent in Congress after his retirement. Dent had represented the Lehigh Valley for over a decade.
Sarnitsky said Wild’s ability to navigate a divided political community stems from her ability to relate to people.
“I think right now in our country there’s such division, and I think a part of that is our unwillingness to get into someone else’s shoes,” Sarnitsky said.
She said Wild doesn’t have that reluctance.
“Somewhere along the line, we forgot that we’re all Americans, and I think somebody like her is really going to be an important figure in helping us bring people back together,” Sartnitsky said.
Wild is running against Republican challenger Lisa Scheller, who President Donald Trump endorsed in the Republican primary earlier this year.