July 5, 2011 |

Councilwoman Rudiak travels to Washington to meet with Pres. Obama

As a student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Natalia Rudiak was always on the outside looking in — at the White House, that is.

"It was gated with a fence, and it was part of our life to walk by it," she said.

But on June 17, the city councilwoman found herself on the inside looking out, and the occasion was far more memorable than she could have imagined years earlier in her dorm a mere five blocks away.

"It was so interesting to be let through the gate, and then walking to the pillars and looking at all the tourists on the other side," she said.

"I was not a stranger to Washington, D.C., but I was a stranger to the White House," she said.

But on that day, the greater thrill was meeting with President Barack Obama and other administration officials as part of a delegation from the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, a leadership program of the People for the American Way.

Nearly 200 YEOs, who are between the ages of 18 and 35, attended the event as guests of Mr. Obama. The YEOs were briefed by top administration officials, such as Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Austan Goolsbee, on issues such as the economy, energy alternatives, and innovative technology programs.

They were also afforded time to express their opinions, share their experiences, and engage the administration of matters of upmost importance to their constituents. In the evening, the YEOs enjoyed a reception in their honor in the East Room of the White House that was attended by Mr. Obama.

"He was there about 20 minutes, and gave an inspiring speech.

"I got all teary eyed," said Ms. Rudiak.

YEOs represent 4.8 percent of all elected leaders. According to their website, www.yeonetwork.org, the YEOs are "progressive" elected officials.

Ms. Rudiak learned of the Young Elected Officials Network through the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle. While attending a network conference, she met David Plouffe, chief campaign manager for Mr. Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

Today, he is a senior advisor to the president.

When he mentioned the upcoming White House event for YEOs, Ms. Rudiak expressed her interest to other officials, which led to her receiving an invitation.

"I was very excited. I was like eating dessert — I wanted to keep it to myself," she said of not telling anyone about the invitation for several days.

On June 21, Ms. Rudiak reported on her White House visit to council.

"We all sit around and have our conflicts and disagreements, but at the end of the day we support the common cause, and the federal policy that supports our city," she told her colleagues.

She said Mr. Obama is opposed to extending high-end tax cuts when they expire in 2012. To extend and make permanent would cost $4.6 trillion from 2012-2121.

Ms. Rudiak delivered about a dozen letters to the White House for the president. One was from a 16-year-old girl who had to move from her home due to the environmental impact of Marcellus Shale.

When the controversial topic arose, it "got claps and cheers in the room," she said of the reaction from other YEOs.

In her meetings with administration officials, she learned "we are falling woefully behind in the development of clean energy;" and that the administration is taking a stand "on trying to free data."

The latter refers to websites such as data.gov and health care.gov.

"When you liberate the information you can make it useful for people in their daily lives," she said.

Ms. Rudiak said the challenge for the city is how to make city data available, such as on abandoned housing, "so we can deliver better services to our constituents."

Citing the success of the private sector Netflix and Facebook, she concluded her report before council saying there is no reason government cannot be that easy to use.

Ms. Rudiak said in addition to hearing from Mr. Obama and top administration officials, the event was invaluable for the interaction with elected officials at all levels of government who face similar challenges — many of whom she plans to keep in touch.

"I always like to talk with like-minded people facing the same issues.

"We all have similar stories. My mom is from Poland. Most

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