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The Dietician With an Appetite for Politics

County Executive, Erie County, Pa.

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Kathy Dahlkemper is an Erie native who spent more than 20 years working as a dietician. She hadn’t considered a turn in public service until, one night following the 2006 midterm elections, a friend suggested she run for Congress. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Dahlkemper says. “It became almost an obsession with me.”

Two years later, she decided to run for the state’s 3rd Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She defeated a seven-term incumbent to become the first woman to hold that seat. During her tenure from 2009 to 2011, Dahlkemper worked on the Agriculture Committee, the Science and Technology Committee and the Small Business Committee.

In 2013, she made the move to local politics and won election as Erie County executive, where she’s focused on economic resurgence initiatives. She also instituted an overhaul of the county’s emergency radio system and a revamp of the county planning department to focus on regional efforts. She was reelected in a tight 2017 race, which she won by just 307 votes. She says she wants to continue her drive for economic development, and hopes to realize the county’s long-delayed goal of starting a new community college. 

Read about the Women in Government program and the rest of the honorees.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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