The 2018 midterm elections witnessed record numbers of women running for elected office at every level of government. However, women still comprise less than 30 percent of the nation’s state legislators.
Jessica Klaitman hopes to increase that ratio by winning a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates. The seat is being vacated by Steven W. Lafferty, a Democrat from Baltimore County who has served District 42A since 2007.
Lafferty resigned his post on Sept. 6 to serve as chief sustainability officer for the administration of Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. Lafferty’s successor will be appointed by the Maryland Democratic Party’s central committee in Baltimore County, and recommendations will be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan.
Lafferty recently endorsed Klaitman for the seat. The results will be announced in early October.
A Stoneleigh resident, Klaitman, 46, believes she is “qualified and ready” to take over the seat. A local activist, social worker, yoga instructor and mother of three, she says running for state government is “a natural extension of my life’s trajectory. … I believe my mission, what I was born to do, is to be of service.”
Klaitman says the importance of serving others was instilled in her and her younger brother by their single mother. A Baltimore City College graduate who grew up in Mount Washington, Klaitman majored in women’s studies and government at Smith College. After college, she moved to New York City and worked as a caseworker for the American Red Cross.
“I was working with homeless and formerly homeless families, and I realized I needed to know more,” she says. So she earned a master’s degree in social work from Hunter College in Manhattan.
Afterward, she took a job in the New York County Public Defender’s office, which was located near the World Trade Center. She was there on Sept. 11, 2001, and the experience altered her life and career path.
After that day, Klaitman provided social work services to the 9/11 United Services Group, an organization that coordinated efforts of New York City charities providing aid to people affected by the terrorist attacks. She was the only social worker in the organization.
Though it was a difficult job, “the opportunity to be of service to my city and these families was a gift to me,” Klaitman says.
One of the organizations that supported the 9/11 United Services Group was UJA-Federation of New York. Klaitman joined the federation’s staff in 2004 and ran a resource line and served on its commission for Jewish identity and education.
Klaitman continued her Jewish communal work at the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services in Manhattan. She also trained to become a yoga teacher to provide stress relief tools to clients.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, Klaitman became involved with the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.
In 2013, Klaitman, her husband, Jordan Small, and their young family returned to Baltimore. Although she was the primary caretaker for their young children, Klaitman threw herself into communal affairs, serving as president of a local parents’ cooperative for three years. In addition to a babysitting exchange program, the coop provided neighborhood activities and engaged in social justice programs.
A Temple Oheb Shalom congregant, Klaitman is an active participant in Come As You Are, a women’s social action group at the Pikesville synagogue. Currently, the group is “getting involved in helping immigrants and refugees because [as Jews] we know about that better than a lot of people,” she says.
Since returning to Baltimore, Klaitman has continued advocating for gun control legislation. “When I first got here, I had trouble finding people [working against gun violence],” she says. “So I took myself to Washington, D.C., where a hearing was going on about guns and domestic violence. I just started introducing myself and getting to know people.”
Klaitman soon joined the group Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence and recently testified in Annapolis about gun control.
During the national 2016 political season, Klaitman canvassed for local and national Democratic candidates in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. After President Donald Trump was elected, she joined Baltimore Women United, a diverse coalition from the city and county that advocates for issues of concern to women and families in the area. She has been on the organization’s leadership committee since 2017.
“We do everything from knocking on doors to offering issue-centered and candidate forums and Annapolis updates,” says Klaitman. The group also coordinates marches and rallies such as the Baltimore Women’s March, which Klaitman helped to organize last January.
“One of our primary goals is to engage women in every part of the electoral process,” she says. “Things that are good for women are good for community.”
If appointed a state delegate, Klaitman says she plans to “do the most good [she] can” in the remaining three years of the term.” She says her priorities include gun violence prevention, education, environmental preservation, finding transportation solutions, ensuring equal pay for women and making Maryland a welcoming place for immigrants.
“When I look back on my life, it’s important to me to know that I stood up and spoke and took action when it was necessary for human rights and all of our well-being,” Klaitman says. “I have to make myself and my kids and my community proud.”