In 2018, Liuba Grechen Shirley ran a historic campaign for Congress. And she did it while raising two kids under 5. 

That April, Grechen Shirley became the first woman to petition the Federal Election Commission for approval to use campaign funds for childcare costs. The FEC voted unanimously in Grechen Shirley’s favor. 

“It changed the way that people run for office,” Grechen Shirley told BK Reader. “We’ve now seen 51 federal candidates, both moms and dads and Democrats and Republicans, use their campaign funds to run.”

She lost the election, but Grechen Shirley has continued to fight for moms’ place in American politics.

In 2018, she founded Vote Mama, a political action committee helping Democratic moms win elections. 

“We need to address the motherhood penalty in America—and this starts with electing more moms and changing the face of elected officials nationwide,” says Vote Mama’s website. 

‘Running for office is just what mamas do’

Vote Mama is the first PAC created by and for women with dependents. 

It seeks to break down barriers to entering politics by providing direct campaign support such as money, mentorship, and publicity. 

“Women, and particularly moms of young children, face unique challenges when running for office,” says Vote Mama’s website. “There are many PACs that focus on electing women — but Vote Mama is the only one focused solely on electing moms.”

Liuba Grechen Shirley with her daughter Mila at the bill signing for paid family leave in NY in 2018. Photo courtesy of Liuba Grechen Shirley.

The PAC’s goal, Grechen Shirley says, is not simply to help moms get elected but also to set an example for future generations.

“It’s not about the number of moms we elect,” Grechen Shirley told BK Reader, “it’s about normalizing what it looks like to run as a mother.”

The PAC’s name was inspired by her children chanting, “Vote mama!” during her campaign. 

 “[My kids] learned that running for office is just what mamas do,” Grechen Shirley said.

Mamas take on the New York City council races

Since 2019, 50 Vote Mama-endorsed candidates have won federal, state, and local elections across the country; 16 of them are from New York.

The PAC hopes to continue its success in the upcoming City Council races. Vote Mama has endorsed candidates across the boroughs, including Tricia Shimamura, Johanna Garcia, Ischia Bravo, Linda Lee, April Somboun, and Nikki Lucas.

(L to R) Top: Tricia Shimamura, Johanna Garcia, Ischia Bravo; Bottom: Linda Lee, April Somboun, Nikki Lucas

“These women have bold visions,” Grechen Shirley said, “and that’s why we’re so excited to support them.”

District 42 candidate Nikki Lucas wants to help her community bounce back.

“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Lucas said. “People are coming out of a pandemic wanting to make sure that they are safe, they are housed, they are employed.”

When it comes to addressing her district’s needs, Lucas believes the best solutions come from those with personal experience.

“How can someone who hasn’t experienced something understand fully how to fix it?” Lucas said. “It’s about being Black, it’s about being a woman, it’s about being a mother.”

April Somboun, a first-time political candidate who is running in Brooklyn’s District 33, agrees that it’s time for new perspectives on the City Council. 

“For things to change for families, you need moms in office who understand at the visceral level what it’s like and who can fight for everyone,” Somboun said.

A time for change

If elected, Somboun will become the first mom, woman, and minority to represent the 33rd. She says she is determined to change the perception that politics is a “boys’ club.”

April Somboun with her children, Clementine and Hitchens. Photo courtesy of April Somboun.

“[The City Council] is really where change happens,” Somboun said, “and I want to be a part of that change for my community and all New Yorkers.”

Grechen Shirley believes that Vote Mama candidates can help NYC move forward from the challenges of the past year. 

“They will be the best voices for New York’s working families, to bring New York City back stronger than ever,” Grechen Shirley said.

“They’re trailblazing women of color, and they have the power to change the council’s landscape.”

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