Montgomery County Council District 7 candidate Dawn Luedtke is a woman of many talents and can best be described by three distinct roles. Politically speaking, she’s a triple threat: a data-driven, gifted assistant attorney general who makes time to mentor aspiring, young lawyers; an artist who serves on the board of Olney Theater and Baltimore Concert Opera; and a mother of four children under age 18 who she helps navigate the academic and social challenges of adolescence and young adulthood.
To say she does a lot is an understatement. It is no surprise to her friends and family that her natural progression would be in elected office to continue her track record of distinguished public service. It also could not be a more ideal time in Montgomery County politics to have Dawn’s expertise, work ethic, and network, when communities are grappling with rising crime rates and quality of life issues such as pedestrian safety.
To understand the evolution of this gifted woman and what she would bring to the new District 7 seat, you need to know her unusual personal story. Dawn was born in Trenton, N.J., to a teenage mom living in a convent. There was a time not long ago when that’s where pregnant teenagers sought refuge. Dawn was immediately adopted as an infant and grew up in Southern New Jersey, between Atlantic City and Philadelphia, Pa.
From a political and cultural perspective, she attended Catholic elementary school during the administration of President Ronald Regan, and Dawn distinctly remembers her first foray into Democratic politics, which involved sticking up for women and girls. At an age when kids were learning about babies and pregnancy, Dawn was happy to explain her adoption, and when her school wanted students to write about why abortion was bad, bad, bad, Dawn refused and instead wrote about why adoption is good.
Recalling her insistence on this approach, she explained that she wanted her classmates and everyone else to understand what choice really means, and she was dismayed that adoption was not sufficiently promoted and funded. She didn’t and doesn’t believe in condemning and marginalizing difficult choices as “bad.”
Remarkably, even as a fourth-grader, her internal compass was so strong she refused to change her report. It was then that she and her parents realized Dawn needed an environment where free thinking was encouraged, so she left for public school and her world opened wider.
Just after finishing eighth grade, she was hired by a summer stock company after being sent by her dance studio to audition for a production of 42nd Street. She could sing and play the piano and was a natural talent, because she was not yet 14 her age was left off the bio. So, yea, she learned about child labor laws early, but she had such a strong work ethic and so much charisma and charm, she was invited back the next year and offered a mentorship role.
Dawn says it’s where she first learned the benefits of good mentorship and paid it forward. Her early mentors identified her talents and encouraged her to be successful. She continues to give back by using the tools she received in summer stock to help others see the best in themselves and navigate paths to success. Anyone who knows and has worked with Dawn will tell you that mentorship is one of her strongest guiding principles.
Her civic-mindedness led Dawn to become involved in her high school student council and she also got involved in her first congressional campaign for Rob Andrews. The U.S. House district where she lived was heavily Catholic, but like Dawn, Andrews believed women needed more reproductive options, that choice and funding for adoption were not and are still not robust or adequately available.
A high academic achiever, Dawn finished in the top three of her graduating class and went on to the University of Pennsylvania as a double major in English and Theater Arts. She worked for a year at the Tobacco Products Liability Project in Boston where, through the lens of a public health perspective, she learned about the nexus between litigation and legislative reform. She witnessed up close the power of the tobacco lobby, which she said fought reform at every turn.
While negotiations for tobacco settlements with states were getting underway, Dawn met people from all over the country at Attorneys General conferences – referred to as “Settle or Fight,” for which she was the conference planner and organizer in Boston. This would steer her into the legal profession; she attended the University of Maryland Law School while working as a hostess in the Inner Harbor to earn money for living expenses.
Dawn clerked in the Civil Litigation Unit – and learned how the tobacco litigation was working for states, specifically how government can leverage civil lawsuits for the betterment of society. She said it was gratifying to see how settlements were used to fund public health initiatives not only related to tobacco use, but also for health education, prevention, and other programs. Dawn earned her law degree with a special emphasis on health care, served on the Maryland Law Review, and was a member of the mock trial team and moot court board.
I started to see a clear pattern while interviewing Dawn; she has abundant energy and determination; the core of who she is can best be summarized as service above self. Learning and imparting her knowledge to help others seem to be part of her DNA. Dawn went into private practice and was of course successful, but public service kept calling her, so she leveraged her connections – a useful skill for a councilmember – and became an Assistant Attorney General.
Dawn’s desire to make the state better for all its citizens, her passion for public health, and her knack for explaining complex data landed her assignments as Counsel to the Maryland Center for School Safety, Maryland Longitudinal Data System Center, and Active Assailant Interdisciplinary Work Group. She also works on hate crimes, hates-bias community outreach initiatives, and law enforcement training.
Dawn has several ideas about what her district needs. She plans to address pedestrian safety, a serious problem in the Olney, Sandy Spring, and Ashton areas where the lack of a connecting sidewalk system puts walkers at risk daily. In recognition of District 7’s rural character, Dawn would like to expand its capacity for farmers’ markets, which will increase commerce and demand for locally grown food. Dawn’s use of data to better understand and solve community problems also lends itself to the planning and implementation of crime prevention programs. Last but certainly not least, Dawn is a mother of children in public schools who wants to ensure all students have the same opportunities as she did to learn in safe schools with a well-rounded curriculum that includes theater and other performing and visual arts. Her experience is now and relevant and she is a role model and friend to scores of parents and young people in her community.
With the new Council District 7 and an open seat, this is the time to elect a council member with Dawn’s knowledge, expertise, personal and professional networks. It is telling that both men and women from political and non-political friendships all encouraged me to interview Dawn because they believe she would be an incredible asset to our County Council, and that she is just the public servant the new District 7 needs.
If you want a representative with loads of personal and professional experience, one who knows how to act based on data-driven analysis, with a bend toward safety and social justice, Dawn is your candidate. If pedestrian safety, economic development, safe schools, and opportunities for our children are important to you, Dawn is your candidate. Please remember early money helps strong women get elected. For more information and to donate, go to dawnluedtke.com.