June 2019 Student Spotlight
June Student Spotlight with Jessica Baker Vodoor MPA ‘20
We speak to Vice President of Operations at The New 42nd Street, Jessica Baker Vodoor about her decision to return to school for an MPA, her experience running for office in Brooklyn, and her passion for the opportunities to effect change through becoming an elected public servant.
Your career in entertainment real estate, and event operations and production seems like it has been exciting and quite successful. Why are you getting your MPA at this stage of your career?
I decided to pursue my MPA, because while I have been very fortunate to have success in my management career over the past twenty years, I wanted to pursue formalized education to gain a stronger foundation in management strategy and public administration theory. As a leader who has successfully climbed the ladder with very little formal leadership training and an undergraduate degree in theater performance, I have not always felt confident when dealing with challenging issues that require formal strategic approaches. My instincts are good, but I need a bigger toolkit to rely on, and I am building that now in my training at Baruch. Additionally, I have an interest in pursuing a run for public office, either at the city or state level, and I felt the MPA at Baruch would be extremely valuable to round out my experiences with formalized training particularly in government operations and policy development, which I have not had much experience with during my executive career as of yet.
What is it about elected office that draws you?
I believe that New York City and state must be the progressive policy leader in the United States, particularly during these troubled times in Washington. I see a huge need for dedicated, resilient and prepared leaders ready and able to face the inevitable challenges of the coming decades. We will need to collaborate and innovate to repair the damages done during this federal administration. We will need to build new approaches to infrastructure and development. There are no shortages of challenges ahead, and I believe New York should set the example by implementing and managing bold policies for progressive reform. I want to fight to both protect and uphold the values of our great state. I also strongly believe that the state needs clear-headed and intelligent voices advocating for common sense reforms, like improving our voting systems, implementing improved campaign finance regulations to even the playing field, and increasing representation for all of our residents.
When I look to Albany, I see a lot of work that needs to be done. I’m inspired by the recent shift in power, and I’d like to roll up my sleeves and add my skills and energy to help New York be the best progressive state in the nation. I know we can be a state that provides opportunities for all and shows the rest of the nation that it is both possible and BENEFICIAL to have a government system that catalyzes equality, fairness, and justice. We need people in government who have clear ideals and who can not be bought off by private interests. I think I can be the kind of leader that I want to see, and so I’ve decided to get off the sidelines and try to make a personal effort to be more involved, and one day soon, I will run for public office.
Tell us about your experience running for office as a County Committee member of the Brooklyn democratic party. What spurred you to do this? What did you achieve during your tenure?
The county committee in Brooklyn is the largest democratic county in the nation, and the current party operations are a complete mess. I want to work to make it better, to see it hopefully become a Democratic Party committee that truly represents Brooklyn and the values of NYC. The present system does not encourage local participation, and power is traded behind closed doors.
I was inspired to run while working as a community organizer on a project called Rep Your Block, which in 2018 organized together to help over 500 regular Brooklyn residents petition and run for county committee. I offered my operations management skills which in the past had been dedicated only to show business. I am very proud of the results that Rep Your Block created to help regular Brooklyn people build political power. Relationships that I made during that run have also now spurred new projects, and I have worked for the past year on a project called The Vision Project: The Future of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn, which has hosted 17 community workshops focused on building a collaboratively-created aspirational vision statement for Brooklyn politics. We will be publishing the qualitative results collected during these workshops, and I’m very inspired by the results that the data is showing, and by the collective vision of Brooklyn residents.
Currently, I’m also petitioning to be a judicial delegate for the Kings County Judicial Convention. I would like to be a delegate that does not just vote as the county machine instructs, and hope during this process to advocate for a better system for judicial selection to represent Brooklyn resident’s values on New York’s Supreme Court. I also have accepted a role as the Chief of Operations for New Kings Democrats, a Brooklyn political reform club. I plan to continue this community activism in the coming year to advocate for greater participation and dialogue with elected officials in Brooklyn. After that, we’ll see what’s next!