Legislative Coordinator, SEIU Local 32BJ
Long before becoming a rising star in the New York political scene, LaShaun Lesley hoped to dance her way to the top. A trained dancer in a wide variety of forms, from ballet to jazz, Lesley took a leap of faith moving from her native Oklahoma to the big city to pursue her passion.
“Dance in New York is very competitive, so sometimes I got a gig and sometimes I didn’t—so sometimes I could eat and other times I was starving,” explains Lesley.
This uncertainty led Lesley to begin taking evening classes at John Jay College, while also working for New York political bigwigs Mel Miller and Norman Adler performing administrative duties. It was Miller who first nudged Lesley toward a career in government.
“When I finished school, Mel said to me almost verbatim, ‘Hey, kid, you ought to come over and do some work for city government,’ and that’s how I started in politics,” recalls Lesley.
Lesley took a job working alongside Miller and Adler at the political consulting firm Bolton-St. Johns. Her eight years at the company gave her the necessary experience and exposure to take on her current position as legislative coordinator for SEIU Local 32BJ.
Seven months into the job Lesley, the first African-American woman to hold that position in the union, is finding her footing navigating the complicated landscape of organized labor and using her experience working on both sides of the aisle to her advantage. She is currently driving two prevailing-wage bills, one for utility workers and the other for school employees, which she hopes will gain traction this legislative season.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now?
“It’s been a progression of moving through politics to figure out exactly where I fit in and where I should be. I think I landed in a good place, fighting and working for the underserved. I am greatly appreciative to all of my mentors—Mel Miller, Norman Adler, Alfonse D’Amato—for all that was taught to me and for the exposure that I gained working under them.”
If you were not working in politics, what would you be doing?
“In some capacity, I feel like I would be in the arts. Probably a dance instructor.”
Five years from now, what will it say on your business card?
“Still fighting for the people and liking it.”
If you could have a superpower, what would it be, and why?
“The power to create peace and harmony on earth to make all things equal.”
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