'I've always wanted to fight for the underdog'
Emma Burke wants to be a voice for people who are largely underrepresented in Lake Oswego.
"Everything I'm doing is about representing people who don't traditionally see themselves on council," Burke said. "I'm a working-class candidate. I don't work a white-collar job."
Burke, who also ran for Lake Oswego City Council in 2018, was the first to announce her candidacy for the 2020 race. There are three council seats up for grabs in November, as current Councilor Skip O'Neill's term is set to expire and Councilors John LaMotte and Theresa Kohlhoff have announced their candidacies for mayor.
But her reasons for running and why Burke said she would be an ideal candidate for City Council are similar.
"My reasons are the same as 2018, that my kids are in the public schools. … A lot of people move to our community for the schools," Burke said. "I live in Mountain Park, and I think Mountain Park, as a neighborhood, needs representation as well."
As a mother of two daughters in the Lake Oswego School District and a voice for the LGBTQ community, Burke said she wants to represent a diverse array of people.
Burke was born in Canada but grew up in central Washington. She graduated from Nova Southeastern University with a bachelor's degree in professional management. Prior to graduation she participated in a Disney college internship and was in the entertainment department acting in shows and parades in Florida for several years.
She grew up in a church environment and acted in the Christmas pageant at 5 years old, while also performing in musicals throughout her schooling.
Burke said she gained skills such as public speaking and stage presence that she believes would be applicable to her role on the council.
Throughout Burke's career she was primarily involved with recruiting businesses and moved to Lake Oswego in 2007 for a recruiting job with United Human Capital Solutions. She now owns her own local massage therapy business, Seluna Dawn Massage.
But Burke had always been passionate about public policy and served in elected roles by her peers throughout her education.
"I've always cared about policy and the legislative process," Burke said. "When I had my kids, too, it was like 'oh, my goodness.' I began to look at it legacy-wise — what am I leaving behind?" Burke said. "(I) just (wanted) to make the world a better place for them."
Her desire to run for a position in city government escalated during the 2016 election. Burke said decisions were typically being made by older white men, but they weren't the only type of person in the world being affected by the decisions they made.
And though Burke fell short in the 2018 election, that didn't stop her involvement with the city and the school district.
Since 2018, Burke has been a part of LOSD's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee and when the city formed its own DEI Task Force in 2019, she jumped at that opportunity as well.
The city's task force is asked to look at how to increase minority participation by diversifying people on the city's boards, commissions and committees, and exploring how to reduce barriers for people applying for jobs at the city.
Burke also has been involved in several other volunteer roles including the Lake Oswego Moms' Club, Leadership LO — an educational program offered by the Lake Oswego Chamber of the Commerce for local community business leaders — and the Clackamas Women's Services Board of Directors as a public policy committee member where she helped pass Senate Bill 995 and House Bill 3293 (both bills related to survivors of sexual assault) during the 2019 legislative session.
Burke's work on those bills and involvement with the Clackamas Women's Services Board of Directors stemmed from a violent sexual assault she endured in 2017.
"It was a near-death experience," Burke said. "I thought, 'Who knows how much time I've got left, so I really need to make it count.'"
Other life experiences Burke believes have shaped her into the woman she has become today was growing up as an LGBTQ youth.
"My heart would break if there were students who were considering ending their lives because of bullying or things of that nature," said Burke about why she joined the school's DEI Advisory Committee, along with the city's DEI Task Force. "When I had that girlfriend I met at Disney and moved to Pennsylvania with, it was illegal for us to be married. It's a very odd thing to think about years later."
Tigard resident Jen MacNab Brost, who interviewed Burke for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program she was involved with in 2006, said Burke is someone who is thoughtful and a good strategizer.
"She just has this big heart, this huge passion. She has this ability to think really critically and in-depth about each issue," MacNab Brost said. "The fascinating thing is she's a business owner, but she's also been an employee. She's able to navigate both sides of issues really well."
MacNab Brost said Burke's unique ability to connect with different people on different levels and bring communities together will take her far if elected to serve on the council.
"I know Emma is able to align through relationships because she values relationships," MacNab Brost said. "I see her able to navigate difficult conversations because of the relationships she forges and builds and maintains."
Ultimately, Burke said it's important to care for all people.
"Inherently, I always cared for people. I've had a thing for justice since I was very young," Burke said. "I've always wanted to fight for the underdog."
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