The Oberlin Review

First-Year Looks to Transform Local Politics, Runs for District 56

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Claudia Olaes delivers her valedictorian speech during the graduation of the Class of 2018 from nearby Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio. Olaes, a College first-year, has taken a leave of absence to run for state representative in Ohio’s 56th District.

Claudia Olaes delivers her valedictorian speech during the graduation of the Class of 2018 from nearby Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio. Olaes, a College first-year, has taken a leave of absence to run for state representative in Ohio’s 56th District.

Photo Courtesy of Claudia Olaes

Photo Courtesy of Claudia Olaes

Claudia Olaes delivers her valedictorian speech during the graduation of the Class of 2018 from nearby Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio. Olaes, a College first-year, has taken a leave of absence to run for state representative in Ohio’s 56th District.

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While most Oberlin students are once again settling into campus life after spring break, College first-year Claudia Olaes is running for local office. A pre-med student minoring in Art and Politics, Olaes has taken academic leave this semester to run for the Ohio House of Representatives in District 56. The Democratic incumbent, Dan Ramos, is unable to run for re-election due to term limits, so the Lorain native is campaigning for a vacant seat against three Democrats and one Republican.

Olaes may be young, but she highlighted her youth as one of her strengths, further emphasizing the need for local change.

“As a young candidate, I bring my energy, empathy, commitment, creativity, and idealism,” Olaes said. “I’m focused, hardworking, full of grit, and I’m not afraid to take action and risks. I offer fresh ideas and out-of-the-box solutions to the growing problems here in my community.”

Tired of years of inaction and silence from her political representatives, Olaes said she believes in her position as an underdog to break the stagnant status quo.

“I am running because I know what it’s like not to be heard,” she said. “I come from a family of advocates whose letters to the Governor, Attorney General, State Representative, Ohio [and] U.S. Departments of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Office of Civil Rights, and the Ohio Inspector General have fallen on deaf ears.”

District 56 has one of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in Ohio. Lorain was once a thriving rust belt town, propelled by U.S. Steel, which generated thousands of jobs. In recent years, however, jobs have left the county and its residents have struggled to recover. As a result, Olaes’ top priority as a candidate for Ohio representative is to listen to people — particularly those who have been marginalized because of their identity in the past.

“Your voice will be heard,” Olaes said. “The voice of individuals with disabilities, students and their families, … the 28 percent in poverty and the unemployed; those affected by the devastating opioid epidemic; youth across the America, standing up because enough is enough of these senseless school shootings; the victims of human trafficking; the courageous women of the #MeToo movement; and any voice experiencing social injustice and inequity will be heard.”

Beyond her strong conviction and vision of equality, many wonder what qualifies Olaes to represent 113,103 residents in places including Oberlin and Lorain. Olaes was valedictorian at Oberlin High School and was awarded the Robinson Scholarship, a merit scholarship for students who excel academically and socially. She is also a student-athlete at Oberlin, previously making history as a female player in a boy’s league before playing for the College.

“I played first singles and served as captain of the varsity boys tennis high school team,” she said. “I won the 2017 Ohio Boys Tennis Sectional Tournament and the Lorain County Athletic Administrators Association Boys Tennis Tournament.”

College senior Sarah Hughes, the Yeowomen’s tennis captain, said that she and the team were proud of Olaes for taking bold steps to run for office while she is still a student.

“I think it’s really amazing that she’s going for it,” Hughes said. “She’s a strong leader, and we’re all very proud of what she’s doing.”

In addition to her academic and athletic achievements, Olaes also started a foundation to advocate for autism when she was in high school.

“My brother has autism, and I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people advocating for individuals with disabilities and their families,” she said.

Together with her sister, Olaes created an art exhibition titled, “His Ability: Autism Seen Through His Sisters’ Eyes.” The sisters co-founded and continue to run the Ethan88 Foundation: Let Music Move Us, a nonprofit organization inspired by their brother Ethan, “which raises awareness and support to important causes.”

Olaes’ father, Carm Olaes, OC ’92, said that the leadership his daughter has fostered makes him confident in her attempt to run for office.

“Ever since she was a little girl, Claudia has always had the heart of a leader,” he said. “She knows what it takes to defy the odds and stand up for what is right. What truly sets her apart is her compassion for humanity and her belief that she can change things. She has always had my vote.”

Olaes said her time at Oberlin has also been a large motivator for her to run, drawing from Oberlin’s long history of social justice and slogan that one person can change the world.

“I love what Oberlin College represents, its history and its reputation,” she said. “My professors motivate and challenge me to always be at my best. I’ll always remember First Lady Michelle Obama giving Oberlin’s commencement address. Her words that stick with me are, ‘If you truly wish to carry on the Oberlin legacy of service and social justice, then you need to run to, and not away from, the noise.’”

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8 Comments

8 Responses to “First-Year Looks to Transform Local Politics, Runs for District 56”

  1. J.D. Bignacci on April 6th, 2018 7:00 PM

    Ms. Olaes already has one of the essential skills for a politician—she’s a proven and polished public liar. For several years now she and her sister, no doubt at the prodding of Dad, have been publicly peddling a completely false and demeaning narrative about the quantity and quality of special education services offered by the Oberlin City School District. Dad, who is a legend in his own mind as regards special education, lost a couple battles with the higher-ups in the school district so he sent young Claudia and her sister forth to lie about the Oberlin schools to whomever would listen. (Note: Not many people with any understanding of the Oberlin schools believed them.) Perhaps as a candidate she will be able to publicly defend her negative statements about the Oberlin schools, because if she runs I can assure you that they will come up.

    [Reply]

    A Fox Reply:

    As a young person and Oberlin student myself, I want to believe the image that Oates is selling, that she’s a competent and compassionate leader in her own right who can help her community. But if this is her messaging — a list of extracurricular accomplishments that reads like a college application and utterly meaningless generic slogans with no mention of any tangible policy goals — then yeah, that makes it easy to believe that she’s looking to pad her resume at best, and at the worst, being cynically manipulated by a family of next-level Dance Moms with a concrete and potentially destructive agenda.

    If Oates wants to debunk this, then she will have to center her actual goals in her messaging and risk having them actually be debated. And to the writer of this and future pieces on Oates: she may be young and your peer, but she has decided to run for office, and she will have to be treated as any other politician and asked meaningful questions, including ones about the controversy the above poster brings up. To do otherwise — to unquestioningly champion Oates because of her novelty and Oberlin College affiliation, when she may well represent a threat to the services of Lorain County’s most vulnerable residents — would only deepen the town-gown divide.

    [Reply]

    A Fox Reply:

    Olaes* whoops. Yknow how you can misread something once and then your brain just autocorrects it to that indefinitely lol

    [Reply]

    J.D. Bignacci Reply:

    “…..being cynically manipulated by a family of next-level Dance Moms with a concrete and potentially destructive agenda.”

    Bingo! You pretty much hit the nail square on the head as regards the campaign which Claudia Olaes and her sister took public against the special education programs in Oberlin. However, she had to have known the falsity of some of what she was saying—many of her statements were outright and obvious lies. My wife and I are just two of a number of parents whose children were in the special education program that was under attack. We took our outrage over Olaes’ remarks to the superintendent and to several individual board members; there was pretty much a unanimous agreement amongst them that they knew the Olaes’ negative and false statements were so much BS. It was their choices to listen and disregard the lies as background noise with hopes that it would go away. It did. As a group we did not publicly respond for two reasons: one, we did not feel it fair to call-out and attack two schoolchildren as liars, and, two, we knew that it was the father, their “next-level Dance Mom(s),” that was behind it.

    If Olaes runs for office she will lose many of the protections and courtesies she enjoyed as a schoolgirl peddling Dad’s narrative. She’ll have to play by big-kid rules and the questions about her false attacks on the local educational system will definitely be a part of the discussion and will come from a number of people.

    [Reply]

    Sandra Redd Reply:

    I am the mother of a daughter who has special needs. There are many problems with the special education program at the Oberlin City School District that has been going on for years. For example, the Oberlin City School District had my daughter and other students in her class doing the school’s LAUNDRY, GARBAGE and baking Muffins two days a week. The Oberlin School District also had my child literally doing the same basic worksheets over and over again. When the time came for my daughter to attend high school, the Oberlin School District tried to force her and other students to remain in the middle school while having 9th grade, freshman status. When I or any other parent attempted to voice these concerns to the Oberlin School administration and School Board, we were immediately painted as trouble makers or as the Oberlin School Board President, puts it, “Squeaky Wheels.”

    I am including two links of the Oberlin City School District’s Report Cards from school years 2016-2017 and 2015-2016. Both links are from the Ohio Department of Education’s website which gives a School District’s letter grades in various education categories/indicators. In both school years, under “Students with Disabilities,” the Oberlin City School District received the letter grade, “F.”

    The sad thing is, the Oberlin City School District received “F’s under “Indicators Met,” “Gap Closing,” and “K-3 Literacy (2015-2016).”

    Before you start calling anyone a liar, please look at the true facts. Then look at yourself in the mirror.

    Oberlin City School Report Cards from the Oho Department of Education Website:

    2016-2017 Oberlin City School District Report Card
    http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov/Pages/District-Report.aspx?DistrictIRN=044594

    2015-2016 Oberlin City School District Report Card
    http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov/Archives%20TS/044594/044594/044594_2015-2016_DIST.pdf

    [Reply]

    Richie Renner Reply:

    J.D. Bignacci, in response to your negative criticism regarding Miss Olaes I find it quite disturbing that you would make such inflammatory remarks without justification. After carefully reading your comment I find that there is no merit to such criticism. Miss Olaes specifically expresses her concern for the betterment of the Oberlin community and is sympathetic to the needs of its people that are not as fortunate as others are. I find it absolutely appalling that you would include Miss Olaes’s father in your derogatory statements which I feel is irrelevant to the political issue at hand. I have had the opportunity and good fortune of meeting Mr. Olaes several times and I have gotten the impression that he is a man of tremendous values and shows a deep desire to better improve Oberlin. He is a man that has an impeccable reputation and is very highly regarded within the community. Finally if you, J.D. Bignacci, in your opinion feel so strongly against their values and honesty then I suggest you come out of hiding and face your opponent, or opponents in this case, in an open debate.

    [Reply]

  2. Anna Park on April 9th, 2018 9:52 PM

    I am truly grateful to see Claudia Olaes running for the Ohio House of Representatives in District 56. I was very fortunate enough to be able to volunteer at Oberlin High School to teach Street Law class during my Senior year few years ago and I was able to witness a lot of help and reform that was needed in the education sector in District 56. We need to help teachers, students, and parents in these schools to have a quality, responsible, and hopeful education. She has attended the high school in this district so she can make a positive difference in so many ways. It takes a lot of courage to run for an office and you inspire me to do the same in other ways. She is more than capable of making positive changes in District 56 because she will be willing to do the tough work. Not only she is capable of doing the work but she also has a big heart who always willing to support for anyone in need. I have known this wonderful family for few years and I know that they are making positive change in Ohio by spreading Autism awareness to all the people that they can reach out to. Thank you for for this wonderful article and giving positive support to Claudia Olaes!

    [Reply]

  3. Rachael670 on April 11th, 2018 5:17 PM

    What an inspiration!! This girl is exactly what we need in politics these days. I believe she will have the ability to change things. Keep at it!

    [Reply]

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