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Their Politics Is Local, continued

Like Joaquin and Julian Castro, Jalila Jefferson '01 returned to her hometown to run for office just months after graduating from HLS. Also like the Castro twins, Jefferson has an abiding interest in providing educational opportunities for young people and a parent who is politically involved: U.S. Rep. William Jefferson '72, D-La.

Jalila Jefferson
Jalila Jefferson '01, in Cambridge recently for her Harvard College reunion, ran in May for a seat on the Louisiana Legislature.

Jefferson moved to Los Angeles with her fiancé after graduating from HLS in 2001. She worked at the firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges for five months and had every intention of staying in L.A. for several years. But when a Louisiana state representative won a seat on the New Orleans City Council, Jefferson could not pass up the opportunity to return to New Orleans and run for the legislature. She resigned her job and flew home just in time to qualify for the race.

Running for office was always something Jefferson considered, but she wasn't sure she would take the plunge until her third year at HLS.

"Coming out of Harvard Law School, you have so many options," Jefferson said. "I had been praying very hard about what I should do with my life. It doesn't always have to be a big law firm; in fact, I wasn't very happy at that job in Los Angeles. I didn't know exactly what direction I should be heading in. And it just came to me, and I thought it would be so gratifying."

Despite her father's name recognition and connections that helped her raise a significant amount of money, she lost the special election by 110 votes. The press in New Orleans emphasized her familial political connections and accused her of a sense of entitlement. Jefferson, who is African-American, asserts that such accusations stem from a deep-seated bias against black political candidates in the South. Though U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu from Louisiana has several relatives in public office, including a father who was the mayor of New Orleans, no one talks about family dynasties when it comes to the Landrieus, Jefferson contends.

"They've got at least four or five people in elected office, and that's OK. It never comes up," she said. "But when a black family wants to come and do it, we're trying to run the entire city."

Since the race Jefferson lost was a special election to fill a vacant seat, it will be up for grabs again in November 2003, when Louisiana residents will also vote for governor. Jefferson expects to take another crack at the seat then and benefit from higher voter turnout. In the meantime, she plans to launch a foundation devoted to education, which she says is her top priority. She also plans to organize a voter registration drive, particularly in the city's African-American communities, where voter turnout is historically low.

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