Interview with Mayor Lindsey Horvath, 2004 Gender Studies Major
Mayor Lindsey Horvath, 2004 Gender Studies Major, reflects on her career path
Interview by Abigail Bartels, 2016 Gender Studies major
What did you learn at Notre Dame that helped you in the political world, especially being the outsider – the woman, the young person, the person who had just moved eighteen months before joining the Council?
More than a few things! First, that hard work really pays off. A lot of times you can prove your commitment, your dedication to something just by how hard you work on it. The time, energy, and overall spirit you are willing to invest in something makes a difference. I think Notre Dame taught me a lot about hard work but also a lot about who I am and who I am not, who I choose to be when I have opportunities to be of service and how much of myself I’m willing to invest in something in order to get it done right.
What do you wish you had learned at Notre Dame to prepare for your experiences that Notre Dame did not provide you or that you learned another way?
I don’t think it’s any fault of the university, but I still struggle with time management and delegation of duties. I think that’s more my personal shortcoming than anything I really could have learned in a classroom. I’ve been provided with many opportunities to work on teams and collaborate. I’m a bit of a stubborn person, and old habits die hard, but I think Notre Dame gave me the ability to learn how to work with people in ways that I wouldn’t have been afforded otherwise. You learn as a whole person here. Where my personal shortcomings come into play, Notre Dame really helped me strengthen relationships. The process of building relationships isn’t about a piece of paper, a transaction, or a particular outcome; it’s something that is going to last you a lifetime.
You mentioned that you consider yourself stubborn. Do you think that is something that has helped you along the way?
Probably. I tend not to be a confrontational person but I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, and I think Notre Dame really helped me with that as well. There are times when being in conflict with people, even people with whom you routinely agree or who usually are on your side or in your party, sometimes you have to do that. And it either comes with the job or it’s just the right thing to do. I think that Notre Dame really prepared me for standing up for what I believe in, for making sure that the values that I proclaim to hold, that I actually live them out in my daily life.
If you could go back and give your first year self advice, coming into college at Notre Dame and knowing now where you were going to be eventually and where you hope to be, what would you have told yourself?
Don’t worry about psychology! Psychology was my hardest class, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I am my own worst critic, and so I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and do better in that course and it just wasn’t a right fit for me. I think that going to Notre Dame taught me a lot about who I am and who I am not and there are going to be certain things that just aren’t your strength and that’s okay. There are other people for whom that is their strength and perhaps that is what is on their path. So learning as much of what you’re not about as who you are was part of my journey. I think that sometimes when I ran into frustrations, such as psychology, I got pretty hard on myself, but everything ended up turning out okay.
Was psychology a potential major for you?
No, it was a class I took freshman year. I don’t know if it was required or what it was, but I’ll never forget one of my floormates – Paula, who threw her first snowball at me! – we took psychology together and we struggled through that class so hard. And we were both really good students and it was particularly challenging because we had never experienced something that hard before in terms of our academics, but we made it through. I just hope I never have to rely on any of that information!
You had coursework to deal with, but you also had a lot of extracurricular activities. What were some of those highlights?
It was a lot of fun. I did musical theater, I was in the folk choir, I wrote for The Observer, I was involved politically, I organized and produced The Vagina Monologues, I helped to create the gay-straight student alliance with many other people, my freshman year I was in Asian Allure…it was all very fun.
If you could think of a couple words to describe your experience at Notre Dame, what would those be?
Unforgettable. Very, very rich. There is so much tradition and history behind who we are as a Notre Dame community and as a Notre Dame family. Something that might seem very routine might actually be something that has happened here for generations. There’s something about being connected to both the past and the future by being a part of Notre Dame that makes it a very rich experience. It was rewarding in the sense that I always felt that I was on a path toward doing something for the greater good, that that was always a focal point of the work I was doing here. I never felt like I was on a fast track to getting a high paying job (although that was certainly one of the possibilities). It was clear that the outcome of my work was going to be about more than a paycheck. That was very exciting to me, to know that the work that I was going to do was going to be consequential in some meaningful way is really exciting. As much as I loved my Notre Dame experience, I also loved seeing what kind of life it was going to afford me.
How does your Catholic faith, your upbringing in that faith and your education in that faith effect what you do now?
The social justice mission of the Church has always resonated with me, even at a young age. That’s why I continue to practice the faith today. It just makes sense to me. It’s not because it’s something my mom and dad forced me to do and now I just do it; it’s really my own faith, my own belief, and it makes sense. I see how being of service actually makes the world better; I see how caring for the least among us helps uplift everyone. It’s very easy to apply that when I’m thinking about policy that helps to build community or when I’m thinking about programs that can help improve our quality of life. But even in my work in entertainment, my general desire to help people has made me effective in a practical way too. When clients call with their requests, they know they can count on me to get the job done, that I want to help them, and that I’m going to do it in a way where I tie up all the loose ends. I’m an effective problem solver because of the work that I’ve done at Notre Dame, and I’m able to apply that in a lot of different ways. But the way my faith makes it different is that I get to make those decisions not just based on a set of facts but also on the values that are applied to every situation.
It sounds like you didn’t plan to work in entertainment. Was government something that had crossed your mind as a career path?
I thought I was going to go to law school and practice law. Maybe I’ll do that someday. I just thought that was the way that I was going to be able to create the most good, working through the law and creating justice. That was something that really resonated with me. I wanted to be the type of person that created just outcomes and a more fair and just world. I thought I was going to do that as a lawyer, but I didn’t. I feel like I still have the opportunity to do that in the work that I am doing now. I am lucky. I think it’s true that people who know who they are and know what they want to be about, even though the path may change, if you’re dedicated to the outcome, you’ll get there. A lot of times when a plan doesn’t go exactly the way we expect it to, we can get down on ourselves or get frustrated or feel like all is lost. But when you know who you are and what you’re about, your path will make itself known to you.
That’s a scary thought for a lot of people – what if I don’t go into the industry I expect? So what has been the most rewarding part for you of doing just that, specifically in the entertainment industry?
I think it’s been a fun, good paying job. I’ve been able to afford my life in California, which is really great. But more than that, it’s allowed me to be a creative person, to work on creative projects, to work with creative people (I work with artists every day, and that’s pretty fun!). Seeing the kinds of pieces they put out into the world, what their inspiration is, learning how they look at things – I am always learning in entertainment because it wasn’t something I was expecting to go into. I try to learn rather than coming in and taking over a situation. I see my role on the teams I am working with as trying to facilitate outcomes rather than dictating a path forward. We come to it together. And I think as a result, especially for creative people, my team feels that they have more investment in a project when they’re able to be part of the outcome.
So then to switch to one of the other hats that you wear, what has surprised you most about being mayor?
I think one of the things that has surprised me most is how being a mayor could ever not be considered a full time job! There’s only so much time I’m able to devote every day to doing this job that I love, because our Council is only a part time City Council. Now, let’s be honest, I probably dedicate a lot more time than I should, but it’s because I love it and I’m committed to my community. It’s surprising to me to learn how many people don’t know that not every mayor serves full time and may have another full time job. People will email me at 3 in the morning, they’ll call me on the weekends, asking for help on things that I would never think to ask my mayor for help with! But I think that’s more because they know that I want to help them and I’m willing and able, if I’m not the right person, to connect them to the person who can help them and solve their problems. I enjoy learning what it is that my community expects of me in this role.
What next for you?
It’s a four-year term, so at that point I’ll have to decide whether I want to run again and the community would have to decide whether they want me back for another four years. The thing that I know probably more than anybody else at my city hall is that my position is not forever. I get to serve by the generosity and good will of the people of my community. So if they want me back, I am certainly happy to be of service. As a result, I know that I have a finite period of time to make that difference so I try to work as hard as I can, as much as I can to make that difference to the best of my ability every day.
This year I wanted to focus on putting our most vulnerable people at the center of the city’s work, looking to how we can help uplift the least among us in the community. I know that over the course of my four years, my hope is to also work with small business owners who I know are struggling right now, and I want to make sure that they know that the city is putting the tools in place to help them succeed and help their businesses grow. We need to make sure that the character and uniqueness of all the businesses that are in our community stays, and that we continue to have the kind of culture that supports the businesses we know and love in our community.
I also want to make sure that we prioritize how we care for our environment. We have an award winning climate action plan that was passed as part of our general plan, and I was a part of making that happen the first time I was on council from 2009-2011. I helped to make the city the most walkable in the state, and we are increasingly becoming bike-friendly as well. We’ve been at the forefront of those conversations. Transportation plays a great part in environmental sustainability, and we have room for improvement in our regional transportation. But how we treat our environment, how we deal with development, how we are not just using our land but reusing and investing and caring for our land is important to me. I think those are some of the areas I really want to focus on.
People who know my work know that I care a great deal about ending violence against women and girls. Whether it was working to clear the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles City and County or creating the first ever community response team to domestic violence, how we can be better at getting to the core issues that contribute to violence in our community, especially gender-based violence, is something I’m going to work on until the day I die. I really believe that as we talk about gender equality in any community, in any country, and throughout the world, the core issue in my opinion comes down to violence. If we live in fear of violence every time we speak up or speak out about the rights we do or do not have or should or should not have, we are in trouble. Until we really get a hold on the kinds of violence that are perpetrated against gender minorities all over the world, we are going to have a lot of work to do. Part of the reason that I became a global coordinator for One Billion Rising is because of that reality; UN statistics tell us that one in three women in her lifetime will be beaten. That’s over a billion people on the planet who are victims of violence simply because they are women. That’s unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable.
We have a lot of work to do when it comes to gender-based violence, but that goes for all forms of violence. We are seeing an epidemic in this country regarding gun violence, and it’s one of the most difficult conversations for people to have. So, there are a lot of tough questions that every community wrestles with that I’m glad that I get to be a part of as mayor.
The things that I love to do are about putting people first – how do we create the best outcomes for people? I like to focus my time on making sure that everything I am doing is improving someone’s quality of life.
What is the first step that you would encourage someone to take to make the world a better place?
Have the confidence to just say it. I have found that whether I’ve been at a conference wondering if I should ask a certain question or I’m sitting in a room and to me an answer seems obvious but I’m afraid to just shout it out, the truth is almost every time that I’ve just said the thing that initially I was afraid to say, someone else in the room says, “Oh yeah, me too!” or “I had that same idea” or “I was thinking that same thing.” Usually just saying it out loud lets that idea be known and lets you immediately find community. It’s really incredible how that happens. Sometimes the thing you can be most afraid of is the thing that can most connect you to somebody else.
Know in your heart that putting yourself out there is part of a growth process. I think more so than any other generation, millennials are most comfortable with failure. It’s not because we fail a lot; it’s just because we know that failure is part of an iterative process to getting to the outcomes that we are looking for. Especially in technology and start-up culture, we know that as long as we are trying something new and building on it, failure isn’t a bad thing. It’s when failure causes you to give up that it becomes a bad thing.
One of the things I’m most excited about is the emergence of this new generation of leaders who know that failure isn’t something that defines you unless you let it. Be bold.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
For women who are considering whether to run for office, consider yourselves asked! It’s hard to talk about women in leadership just in general, especially because for so long we saw so few women in leadership. The more we see women in leadership, the more we will become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership. Thinking about how we can get more women into leadership, how we define what leadership is, how we campaign for office, how our government is structured, how you have to get to the top in the corporate world, how women have to choose between family and career and men don’t have to make those kinds of choices – is there something about these things that inherently turns women away? I would say, especially to women who are thinking about what their futures hold for them, that sometimes what you choose right now doesn’t have to be your choice forever. Every day is full of choices, and you can define what those choices are or you can let them define you. Sometimes the way things are structured can seem off-putting, but you will find power in the way you make choices as a result of those structures. Sometimes instead of fearing the unknown, embracing it can be very empowering. So yes, be bold.