Political novice brings D.C. savvy to the table

Becoming the first black person to graduate from Duke University’s M.D. and Ph.D program was “tough” for Michelle McMurry. Going toe-to-toe with fellow Democrat Jackie Speier, who is heavily favored to win the special election for the late Tom Lantos’ seat, could be even tougher.

But those challenges pale in comparison to what McMurry’s grandmother faced, she said. Her grandmother, who passed away in July, was raised by a poor family and had no education, but she became the first black woman to own a business in Alameda when she moved from Louisiana to Oakland. McMurry, 38, said she draws inspiration from her late grandmother.

“That’s a lot more difficult than anything I’ve encountered, and it carries me through these challenges,” McMurry said.

The San Francisco resident is making her first run for office, and while she is starting with a rather ambitious goal, she does have experience in Washington, D.C.

She said she has developed foreign policy, health and science experience by working in the nation’s capital for eight years. She served as a health and social policy aide for Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and spent the last four years telecommuting to a Washington health and science think tank called the Aspen Institute.

McMurry, who is the youngest candidate in the special election by 19 years, said she learned valuable lessons in Washington that separate her from the other candidates. Her competitors, including longtime politician Speier, have never held a national office.

“I learned how the federal government works, how those funding decisions reach down into the local level,” she said.

She also learned to first address issues that pose immediate threats to people’s well-being, such as the mortgage, credit and health care crises.

“As a congressperson, you’re responsible for standing up for others,” she said.

McMurry said the everyday challenges of figuring how to raise a family and make a living are the types of problems she will try to solve if elected. She vowed to also stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

“I think my chances are very good,” she said. “I may not have the immediate name recognition, but when I get out there and talk to people, they really resonate with the message of my campaign.”

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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