Brianna Howard says she never thought she would run for public office, but when no one else was on the ballot for mayor in her hometown of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania, she rose to the challenge.
Howard ran as a write-in candidate, won, and will serve as mayor of the town for the next four years, beginning in January. Mount Jewett, located about 140 miles north of Pittsburgh, has a population of fewer than 1,000 people.
“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. First question, how old are you, Brianna?
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! That is a huge deal.
Howard: Thank you so much. It’s kind of crazy.
Allen: And at the age of 25, that’s amazing.
Howard: Yeah, definitely did not expect to be a mayor at age 25, but I am very excited.
Allen: Why did you decide to run?
Howard: I love my hometown. I have been a passionate advocate for rural values for a long time. I spent some years here in D.C., and I think that kind of informed my decision on how important that rural America is. I just, I felt compelled to run for mayor. I actually ran as a write-in candidate, so there was no one 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 had someone who was also running a write-in campaign, and we had a really, a nice time, both of us running write-ins. Kind of knowing it was just any man’s game to win with no one on the ballot.
Allen: So neat. The town is Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania. 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 drew you to this town? What made you decide, “You know what? I want to represent the people of this town”? Is this a town you actually grew up in?
Howard: Yes. I grew up in Mount Jewett. I was born and raised there. We are an awesome town. It’s tucked right in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest. We have the Kinzua Bridge there, which is one of our wonders of 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.
It draws in a ton of visitors every year. We live in a beautiful place. It’s a tiny little jewel tucked in the mountains, in the forest of Pennsylvania. I just feel really honored to be able to represent people that I grew up with. 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. So many people say that, actually. 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 to have someone as young as you are taking the lead in this way?
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 think there is that hesitation amongst people who are younger that want to run for office. 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. I think being young has its advantages, no doubt.
Allen: For sure. 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] helps that I can stay up late and wake up early still.
Allen: Now, we got to know each other because when you lived in D.C., and you worked at Heritage Action, which is the grassroots arm of The Heritage Foundation. We 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. I was so blessed to work here at Heritage Action. I had so much experience there, and I really enjoyed working in the conservative movement with some really topnotch people. And that extends to all my experiences in D.C. I had the honor of serving in the Trump administration at the Department of Labor, where I just got really great experience working with folks in the workforce and talking about apprenticeships and kind of things that really matter to rural Americans.
Knowing all of what I learned at the Department of Labor, especially, and then following that, I worked on Capitol Hill for a Missouri congressman, who also is from a rural district.
And I think having these experiences in D.C., but also feeling that draw to go back home and missing my family. I think everyone comes to D.C. with a goal in mind. And I think I met a lot of my goals, and I think once I felt that I had tackled a lot of those things I came here to do, I was kind of ready.
I missed my family. I was working from home for a period last year and actually bought a house. That was kind of a big draw as well, just actually owning a home in my hometown. That was kind of an informing decision as well.
Allen: Yeah. That’s special. Congratulations!
Howard: Thank you.
Allen: That’s a huge deal, 25 to own your own home.
Howard: Yeah, it was exciting. I bought an old, 1900s-vintage Victorian home. Needs a lot of love. That was definitely a big part of my decision to move.
Allen: Yeah. Any tips for perspective homebuyers for saving?
Howard: Oh, gosh, save your money, for sure. 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. No, it is a wild time.
Howard: Yeah, it is.
Allen: All right. 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: That is also a very good question. The honest answer is, I don’t really know. I think this role comes with, it is kind of what you make it, and my hope and my goal and kind of what I ran on is, building bridges in my community.
Based off of the Kinzua Bridge, I mentioned our beautiful landmark, I really hope to take some of these federal and state resources that I know that are out there, just given my own experience and cultivating that kind of resource building in my community. My hope is that using these experiences to draw in potential investors into my town, people who are coming as visitors, hooking them in and seeing what all we have to offer in our community and in the hopes that they might come back and invest in our 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. And is it a full-time job?
Howard: It’s not a full-time job. It is kind of like a volunteerish role in my community. And a lot of people in my town are really involved in the Rotary [Club], and we have different kinds of organizations that have been cultivated, which is really special. 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. Now, will you have like a whole team of people 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. But we have a whole borough set up for our town. And so there’s a borough manager, and we have our awesome Town Council. Just kind of pointing back to those folks who are just really involved in 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 four 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: That is really special. When you think about the legacy that you want to leave in your small town, the top priorities that you have, what are those things that come to mind?
Howard: I think just leaving it better than I found it, I think. 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 who I know in my hometown, actually I 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 in a lot of ways at a disadvantage just because of their location and the resources that are available to rural Americans.
That is kind of the legacy that I hope to cultivate, of just taking this town, giving it my all for the next four years, really trying to serve my community in any way that I can, small or large. A lot of times 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. I think a lot of people kind of dream about doing things like that, or we watch the Hallmark movies, and we see people doing things like that. That to actually live that, is it sometimes a little overwhelming? Or how does it 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 just so honored by 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.
I was just really flattered by that. 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. I think that is just so humbling and such an awesome gift.
Allen: Yeah. Are you nervous at all? I feel like if I was in your position, I would be really nervous. Wow, this is a big responsibility to be coming under.
Howard: Yeah. It’s definitely, it’s different to be working in the background of a lot of these things happening. I mentioned, I worked to the Department of Labor, where I was very much in the background, assisting the secretary and our goals as an extension 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. For you, what are some of the role models that are in your life or people that maybe inspired you to run for 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. And so I think absolutely those 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: I love that. That’s so good. What are you most excited about when you think about being a mayor of a small town? 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 again, rural Americans, and I think a lot of people are starting to understand this, especially because of COVID, and I think even just something simple as the lack of broadband that rural Americans have.
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. I know those are bigger, loftier goals for 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 to be informed. We want to be in the know. We want to know what’s going on. We want that transparency. That’s huge and so, so healthy. Wow! 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 I think especially for conservative women, we are the problematic women. 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 say city or small town, I think just putting yourself out there and showing people that you are authentic and that you are caring and that you have the drive to make a difference, that would be my advice.
That’s what I did from Day One. I just, I laid it all out there for the folks 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. That is so important. I love that. What are one or two maybe sort of pieces of life advice that have been really helpful for you or that you have carried with you, or just sort of gold nuggets of wisdom that have helped you as a young person begin to navigate the career field?
Howard: That is a good one. 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. And I think that goes a long way, and people notice.
Allen: They do. People definitely do notice that.
All right, Brianna, we have to ask you this question. We ask all of our guests on “Problematic Women,” do you consider yourself a feminist? Yes or no? Why or why not? No right or wrong answer here.
Howard: Yes. This is the golden question. I would not consider myself 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 call myself a strong, independent woman who knows who she is.
Allen: Love it. Good. Short and sweet. All right, well, Brianna Howard, mayor-elect of Mount Jewett, Pennsylvania, tell us when we visit your town, where do we need to go?
Howard: You definitely have to go to the Kinzua Bridge. That is, I can’t bring it up enough. If you come in the fall, we have the most beautiful foliage, I think, in the whole world. Kaffe Sol is the beating heart of our town, so go there, and have a cinnamon roll and a latte, and you will be just in heaven.
Allen: Sounds great.
Howard: Come on over.
Allen: Brianna, thank you so much for joining us.
Howard: Thank you so much, Virginia. Thanks for having me.
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