Brianna Howard said she never thought she’d run for public office. But when no one else was running for mayor in Mount Jewett (Pennsylvania), she took up the challenge.
Howard ran as a write in candidate and won. He will continue to serve as mayor for the next four-years, beginning in January. Mount Jewett is about 140 miles north-east of Pittsburgh and has less than 1,000 residents.
“Rural Americans are, in a lot of ways, at a disadvantage, just because of their location and the resources that are available to rural Americans,” Howard says.
The mayor-elect says she plans to give Mount Jewett “my all for the next four years, really trying to serve my community in any way that I can, small or large.”
Howard joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to explain her decision to run for mayor and why young, conservative women should feel empowered to be leaders in their communities.
Listen to the podcast below, or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am so excited to welcome to “Problematic Women” my friend and mayor-elect Brianna Howard. Brianna, it’s so good to have you back at [The Heritage Foundation].
Brianna Howard: Thank you, Virginia. I’m so happy to be here.
Allen: All right. Brianna: Your first question is, how old do you think you are?
Howard: I am 25.
Allen: OK, so, you’re 25, and you have recently run for mayor of your small town in Pennsylvania, and you won that election. Congratulations! This is a great accomplishment.
Howard: Thank you so much. It’s kind of crazy.
Allen: And at the age of 25, that’s amazing.
Howard: No, I didn’t expect to be mayor at 25 years old, but I am very excited.
Allen: Why did your decision to run for office?
Howard: I love my hometown. Since childhood, I have been a passionate supporter of rural values. I spent many years in D.C. and that experience has influenced my decision about how important rural America is. I felt compelled, just like everyone else, to run for the office of mayor. I ran as a write in candidate, so there wasn’t anyone on the ballot. That kind of helped make my decision a little easier, given that we didn’t have anyone actually on the ballot.
Allen: Wow! No one else stepped up, and you said, “I will do it, I will step up”?
Howard: Yep, exactly. I was able to meet someone who was also running a campaign for write-ins. We had a great time running them both. Kind of knowing it was just any man’s game to win with no one on the ballot.
Allen: This is so neat. Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania is the name of the town. It’s about a 140 miles north and slightly east of Pittsburgh. On Wikipedia, I looked this up, your population is 935 as of 2019, so maybe it’s grown a little. What attracted you to this place? What made you decide, “You know what? I want to represent the people of this town”? Is this a place you grew-up in?
Howard: Yes. Mount Jewett is where I grew up. I was there my entire life. We are an amazing town. It’s tucked right in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest. There is the Kinzua Bridge, which is one our wonders in our town. And when it was incepted, it was actually one of the seven, I believe—I could be wrong in this—seven man-made wonders of the world.
Every year, it attracts thousands of visitors. It’s a beautiful place. It’s a tiny little jewel tucked in the mountains, in the forest of Pennsylvania. It’s a great honor to be able represent people I grew up around. People who saw me when I was younger and have now grown, and they’ve seen that kind of transformation with me and my siblings, and we’re all really engaged in town. It’s an honor.
Allen: In my head, I’m picturing something like the “Gilmore Girls” town.
Howard: Yes. Many people actually say that. We are very much, you go into the cafe, we have a cafe kind of like in “Gilmore Girls,” actually, and everyone knows everyone. I go there every Sunday for breakfast, and we read the paper, and it’s just, it’s a great time. It’s a great place.
Allen: I love it. And that’s so special that most of the people in the town know you and are excited that you’ve been elected. Because of your age of being 25, have you gotten pushback of people saying, “We shouldn’t have a mayor this young”? Or do you think people are really excited about having someone as young as yourself leading the way in this direction?
Howard: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think, at first when I was deciding to run, I kind of felt that nervousness about, oh, she’s so young. She doesn’t know anything. She’s so green. Because I believe there is some hesitation among younger people that want to run. But then when I really thought about it, I’ve had a lot of great experience and in D.C. especially, in government and knowing kind of, having the tools in my toolbox to help advocate for people in my town.
I am young, but I do think that that’s also an advantage, because I think young people are so active and willing to put in the legwork, which as a mayor, you definitely are putting in a lot of legwork. It’s a lot of things that people don’t really know that you’re doing. It’s a great thing to be young.
Allen: Yes. It’s good to have that energy to keep you going.
Howard: Yeah. I’m going to need a lot of coffee, but also, [it]It helps me to be able to stay up late and get up early.
Allen: We got to know one another because we worked together at Heritage Action, which was the grassroots arm of The Heritage Foundation. We both worked in the same building. What made you decide, “You know what? I want to leave Washington, D.C., and I want to go back to my hometown, and I want to represent those people”?
Howard: Yeah. It was a great privilege to work at Heritage Action. I gained so much experience there and really enjoyed working with some top-notch people in the conservative movement. This extends to all of my experiences in D.C. I had the honor of serving as a staffer in the Trump administration at Department of Labor. This was where I gained valuable experience working with people in workforce and discussing apprenticeships and other topics that really matter to rural Americans.
I was able to recall everything I learned at the Department of Labor. I then worked on Capitol Hill for a Missouri congressman who is also from a rural area.
These experiences in D.C. are great, but I also feel the need to return home and miss my family. Everyone comes to D.C. having a goal. I think I achieved a lot my goals. I felt like I was ready once I had completed a lot the things I came here for.
I missed my family. I actually bought a home after working from home for a year. This was also a major draw, being able to own a home in my locality. It was a very informing decision.
Allen: Yeah. That’s special. Congratulations!
Howard: Thank you.
Allen: That’s a huge deal, 25 to own your own home.
Howard: It was thrilling. I bought an old Victorian home from the 1900s. It needs a lot of love. This was definitely a key factor in my decision to move.
Allen: Yeah. Any tips for prospective homebuyers on saving?
Howard: You can save your money. There’s a lot of programs in place that help make it easier for first-time homebuyers. But it’s definitely a strange market right now, with inflation and such, to buy a home. Maybe just wait, if you’re looking, maybe that’s kind of probably bad advice, but it’s practical advice, I guess.
Allen: Yeah. Yeah. It is wild.
Howard: It is.
Allen: That’s all. Getting into what is actually involved in being a mayor: Do you know kind of what your day-to-day will look like after you’re sworn in, in January?
Howard: This is a great question. The honest answer is, I don’t really know. I believe this role is part of the job. It is what you make it. My goal and what I ran on was to build bridges within my community.
Based on the Kinzua Bridge I mentioned our beautiful landmark. I really hope to use these federal and state resources I know exist, just from my own experience in cultivating that type of resource building in my local community. I hope to use these experiences to attract potential investors into my community, people who are visiting as tourists, hooking them up and showing them what we have to offer our community in the hopes that they will return to invest in my town.
Of course, there’s the meetings that you attend, and all that, but I think in a lot of these rural offices, it’s a lot about what you make it. And I think again, quoting back to the age factor, I’m so excited and passionate about my community that I think that definitely translates in how my day-to-day will kind of take place.
Allen: Yeah. It is a full-time position?
Howard: It’s not a full-time job. It’s more like a volunteer role in my community. Many people in my community are involved in Rotary. [Club]We have many different types of organizations that have been nurtured, which is really unique. I don’t think you get that in a lot of places, but we are so lucky to have a community where people just really are passionate about our heritage and just our history of our town.
Allen: Yeah, that’s really, really special. Will you like to have a whole team working with you? Or in a small town, I don’t know if it’s the mayor is a one-man show, or if you have support and there is that kind of community involvement?
Howard: I don’t know if there’s necessarily a team I would call them that are on the mayor’s team, quote-unquote. We have a whole borough for our town. And so there’s a borough manager, and we have our awesome Town Council. This is just to point back to those who are involved in the town. Those are primarily volunteer positions as well, and it’s just driven by people who want to be involved and make a difference.
Allen: And you’re serving for four years, right? Four years.
Howard: For 4 years. It’s kind of funny I had thought, when I’m done being mayor, it’ll be my 30th birthday, basically.
I’m born in January, so I’ll be sworn in in January, and then I’ll be done the January of my 30th birthday, which is kind of crazy to think about.
Allen: Not something many people can say that they’ve already been a mayor by the time they’ve hit 30.
Howard: So true.
Allen: This is truly special. Allen: That is really special.
Howard: I believe in leaving it better than it was found. I’m a former Girl Scout, so I always kind of live with that motto of leaving things better than how I found them. That was always my troop leader’s motto. Someone I know from my hometown, but I actually saw her on Election Day.
Allen: That’s so cool.
Howard: I was like, “Oh, hi, Sue. It’s so good to see you.” Because I think organizations like Girl Scouts or however people are involved in their community, I think that’s all part of the legacy of how the young people in town, maybe they leave or maybe they don’t leave, and then they come back and how they can serve their community.
I think that’s kind of part of the legacy that I hope to cultivate in my community of just being a voice for not just even my community, but really for rural America. Rural Americans are often at disadvantage because of their rural location and the limited resources they have.
That is part of the legacy I want to leave behind, of just taking the town and giving it my all for four years, and really trying my best to serve my community in every way possible, no matter how small or large. A lot of the time, I think small but in meaningful ways.
Allen: Yeah, yeah. Do you ever step back and just sort of say, “Whoa, this is actually happening”?
Howard: Yeah. It’s kind of funny.
Allen: Because you are in so many ways living that American dream of, you grew up, you came to the city, you kind of experienced that, now you’ve gone back to your small town, you’re taking on this big leadership role. Many people have dreams of doing such things. We watch Hallmark movies or see people doing that. Is it difficult to imagine living that life? Or how does that feel?
Howard: I definitely have had a couple moments so far where I’ve stepped back and been like, wow, I can’t believe I really did that. Or wow! I am so grateful for the feedback. I’ve had people send me such beautiful messages from all over the country, really. I’m so blessed to have an extensive network of friends who are from kind of all over the place, and they’ve been so supportive of me. Not even just in my own community, in my town physically, geographically speaking, but just in my network that I’ve kind of gathered.
I’m so honored to have all of these people reaching out to me and saying how excited they are for me. And that’s really been just such a blessing to have, to know. Sometimes, you lose touch with people, and then out of the blue, I had people from college that reached out to me that I hadn’t talked to in, like, years.
It was a great feeling. But it’s definitely a bit overwhelming at first and just to think, wow, I have such a great responsibility here and such a great opportunity to help improve people’s lives. It’s a wonderful gift and a great honor.
Allen: Yeah. Are you nervous? It’s almost as if I were in your shoes. Wow, this is a great responsibility.
Howard: Yeah. It’s definitely, it’s different to be working in the background of a lot of these things happening. As I mentioned, my work was at the Department of Labor. There, I was very much in support of the secretary and our goals, which were extensions of the Trump administration.
I’ve been so much in that seat of just doing all of the background work. Now, being the one to go to the meetings and to speak with the different partners that I’m hoping to work with in this capacity. It’s definitely a different experience, but I wouldn’t say I’m nervous. I definitely feel because I’m from my community, and I’ve lived there mostly my whole life, I feel that definitely helps kind of with that nervousness of just familiarity with my community.
Allen: Yeah, absolutely. That’s so good. That’s healthy, encouraging to hear. What role models have you found in your life, or people that may have inspired you to run for the office of mayor?
Howard: Yeah. I think it’s so wonderful to look, especially here in D.C., we have such awesome female congresswomen who have really stepped up to the plate. Especially in these last few years, we’ve seen the conservative women in Congress grow. I think these women are role-models. But I think when I think about my own life, and I’m sure you can relate to this, too, of just the strong women that are in my own life. My grandmother, she’s absolutely phenomenal. She’s a public school superintendent.
She has just years and years of knowledge and a wealth of experience that she’s really imparted on me, and I’m so thankful for her role in my life. And I think, when I think about how much she’s impacted her community, being a superintendent in a rural place is a hard job. Everyone knows you. Everyone knows everything that’s going on, and she has just handled that with such grace her whole life. She’s definitely my biggest role model in that sense.
Allen: That is so sweet. That’s so good. When you think about becoming a mayor in a small town, what are you most excited about? And then, what are you a little like, “Oh, I’m going to do it, but I don’t know if I’m going to like it”?
Howard: I’m definitely excited about the possibilities that are out there. Rural Americans, again. I think many people are beginning to see this, especially due to COVID.
I think there’s so many possibilities that you can bring to a rural community in terms of just federal resources and grants and all of those kind of things. I’m excited about that. Those are bigger and more lofty goals, I’m sure. I don’t think there’s really anything that I would say, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to do that or not.”
It’s a lot of just seeing where people are at, I think, and kind of meeting people where they’re at. And it’s really a lot of just keeping people informed. We’re a small town. There’s not a ton of crazy things that are happening, but just being kind of an advocate for the folks in my community—I think that’s really the biggest thing that I’m excited about.
Allen: Yeah. I think that’s so good, because really, no matter where you are, that’s what people want. That’s what the American people want from the president, all the way down.
Howard: Yes, exactly.
Allen: We want information. We want to know everything. We want to know what’s going on. Transparency is what we want. That’s huge and so, so healthy. Wow! I love it. What is your advice to other young women who either are interested in one day running for a public office themselves or who are listening to your story and kind of thinking, “Oh, well, maybe I could do that”?
Howard: Yeah. I think it’s so far off to think you might run for office, and I never really felt that way that I would just pick up and run for office. But conservative women are the ones I believe are the most problematic. We are the folks who the left really doesn’t want to see run for office because when you think of young women, we’re not supposed to hold conservative and rural values, but we’re really the ones who are the most in touch with the people who live in rural America.
I would choose city or small town. I think putting yourself out there and showing that you care and that you are genuine would be my advice.
That’s what I did from Day One. I just, I just laid it all out for the people in my town. I said, “Listen, I don’t know everything, but I know that I love this town, and I have called this place home my whole life.” I think when you’re an authentic person, that really shows through. I think woman or man, I think the authenticity that you can bring to an election when you’re a young person, especially, I think that’s really important.
Allen: Yeah. Yeah. This is so important. That is what I love. I love that.
Howard:That’s a great idea. I think I’m still picking up those little nuggets along the way, and trying to stick them in my pocket.
Howard: I think something that I’ve always kind of brought to my own personal brand is just never thinking I’m the smartest person in the room and always trying to be the nicest person in the room because, again, I think you can point back to the authenticity, and people know when you have their best interests at heart.
And so I’ve always just tried to be very genuine with people, and I think being the same person no matter what room you’re in, I think that’s a big deal. I’ve been in the White House, and I’ve acted a certain way, the same way that I’ve acted when I’m at a town hall meeting or having breakfast at the cafe in my small town.
All these different experiences, no matter how awesome or how “regular day” they are, just being yourself and being your authentic self, no matter what room you’re in, I think that’s a really big deal. It’s something I believe that people notice.
Allen: They do. They do.
Brianna: We have to ask this question. We ask all of our guests on “Problematic Women,” do you consider yourself a feminist? Do you answer yes or no? Why or why not? There is no right or incorrect answer.
Howard: Yes. This is the golden query. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a feminist. I would consider myself to be a strong, independent woman who does not need to identify with a term that has been basically coined by the left to mean something that, in actuality, I don’t think it really is, but I would not call myself a feminist. I would describe myself as a strong, independent woman who knows her identity.
Allen: Love it. Good. It’s short and sweet. All right, Brianna, mayor-elect, Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania. Tell us, when you visit your town, what are the best places to go?
Howard: You must go to the Kinzua Bridge. That is, I can’t bring it up enough. You can visit us in the fall for some of the most beautiful foliage in the world. Kaffe Sol is our heartbeat, so make sure you go there for a cinnamon roll, a latte, or both.
Allen: Sounds great.
Howard: Please come on.
Allen: Brianna – Thank you so much for being here.
Howard: Thank you so much, Virginia. Thank you for having me.
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