Kimberly Hahn, a respected Catholic author and wife of theologian and well-known speaker and author Scott Hahn, has entered the world of local politics. Running as a Republican reformer in an old mill town long dominated by Democrats, she won a seat on the Steubenville, Ohio, City Council in 2015 by a margin of 2,711 to 2,166. Motivated by her Catholic faith, she’s devoted her efforts to improving the community in which she raised her six children, and which is home to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, with which she and her husband have long been affiliated.
Hahn was born and raised Presbyterian. Her father was a minister. In 1979, she married a Scott, a fellow student, and went on to earn her master’s degree in theology in 1982.
Scott went on to convert to Catholicism in 1986, which initially caused great conflict in her home. Kimberly came, however, to agree with her husband’s decision, and entered the Catholic Church herself in 1990. She has devoted much of her time since homeschooling the couple’s six children; she’s also known for her talks about her conversion, issues related to marriage and other topics related to the Faith.
When her youngest child went off to Catholic school, Hahn finally had the time to devote herself to new pursuits. At the suggestion of Scott, she decided to run for city council.
Mark Nelson, owner of the Steubenville business Catholic to the Max, met the Hahns nearly 30 years ago while doing pro-life work. He is a long-time Steubenville resident, who has long believed the city needed revitalization. He said, “We’re an old steel mill town. We lost our manufacturing base, which has led our community to lose people [as the young move away in search of jobs] and hope.”
Julie Robbins, a resident who has been friends with the Hahns since 2001, described Steubenville as a city with “lots of drugs and crime.”
Both volunteered for Hahn’s campaign, Nelson offering the manufacturing resources of his company and Robbins serving as Hahn’s assistant and a member of her volunteer “kitchen cabinet.” Both marveled at her high energy, leading her to visit most of the homes of voters in the district. Robbins said, “Kimberly had the time to commit to the campaign, and was an experienced public speaker.”
Both Nelson and Robbins noted that Hahn’s Catholic faith was a key motivation behind her desire to serve in public office; Robbins noted that regular prayer played a central role in the campaign. She said, “Kimberly’s a very prayerful woman.”
Her election was celebrated by some, and a disappointment to others. However, everyone agreed, said Nelson, that “Her election has caused an upheaval.”
Hahn recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: Why did you decide to run for public office?
Kimberly Hahn: Last year, my son went off to Gregory the Great Academy. I had homeschooled for 26 years, and thought I had three more to go. But the academy was a great fit, so I was finished.
I said to Scott, “Now what?” I had poured so much of my heart and soul into homeschooling, but was now ready for a new challenge. Scott said to me, “Maybe it’s time for politics?”
He knew it had been something on my heart to do. So, I began to put together the beginning of a campaign to run for Steubenville City Council. I went on to knock on over 8,000 doors, running as a Republican in an area 6-1 Democrat. There was one woman on the council, but rarely were women elected. And, only three Republicans had been elected in the last 26 years.
So, the odds were against us. However, we were able to connect with the people. I really, truly wanted to serve. I was elected by a large margin, running against a popular incumbent. It’s been an amazing adventure.
CWR: How did you do it?
Kimberly Hahn: When I began my campaign, I discovered that I may be known in a lot of places in the world, but not in Steubenville. So, I had a variety of public events that took me out to meet the voters. I had 29 coffees, for example, as well as a major event for graduates of Franciscan University who still lived in the area.
One time, we went to a local Democrat bar looking for votes. It was actually a place where the city council once met privately to do city business. We were warned by our opponents that if we came, there would be trouble. The bar manager said I was welcome to come, however, so I did. One gentleman who supported my campaign was a former police officer, and he let the word out that if anyone caused trouble for me, they’d be causing trouble for him. We didn’t have any problems.
A state patrolman, as an aside, suggested to me that I get a permit to carry a handgun. He warned me that I would run into difficult people. I declined, however, and have not felt threatened either before or after the campaign.
We also went to the city’s projects. I was told not to waste time going to the projects, as most didn’t vote and those who did would vote for my Democrat opponent. But I went anyway, as I was running to represent everyone in the city, including those in the projects. I wanted to look each voter in the eye and say, “I care about what you care about.” One man in the projects responded to me: “No one has ever come to my door asking for my vote before. So, you have it!”
During the course of the campaign, we knocked on over 8,000 doors, out of a possible 9,500. I campaigned the night before the election well into the darkness. We ended up by winning by 545 votes.
CWR: Was your opponent surprised?
Kimberly Hahn: I think he was shocked. I think he didn’t believe I had a shot at it. But once the votes were in, I think he as deeply surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he was so confident beforehand, however, as a lot of people were giving me the thumbs up during the campaign.
CWR: What are some of the city’s major issues?
Kimberly Hahn: We had become a very depressed Rust Belt town. We had big problems with crime and litter. So much of our news was negative, despite the fact that we have an incredible Catholic university and community college.
As I went about talking to people, I said to them, “I know you’re getting tired of seeing your children and grandchildren moving away in search of jobs.” I also said we needed to be serious about combating drugs and prostitution, and improve the look of the town.
One of my current projects, which actually began before I was elected to city council, involves an entry sign for the city. I saw a dilapidated old brick house that was slated for demolition. I asked the owner if he’d donate the bricks so they could be used to create a beautiful sign at the entry to the city. He said, “I don’t trust the city, but if you get elected, you can have them. I trust you.”
We’ve since had members of the brick layers union volunteer their time to build the sign, and we’ve invited residents to donate plants from their gardens to beautify it. It hasn’t cost the city anything. I believe our people want to bring beauty and order to our town, and that this effort will inspire more such efforts.
During my campaign, I created five YouTube videos asking the town’s residents, “Why not?” By this, I mean, why not develop the river front? Why not build biking and hiking trails? Yes, our past as a mill town was glorious and there were plenty of jobs for everyone. But the mills are gone. We need to look forward to new possibilities and see what new things are possible. I think there are plenty of young people who want to be a part of rebuilding Steubenville, and who have many ideas to contribute.
Ultimately, it’s my belief that God wants to use Steubenville as a place where people of faith are involved in the community’s renewal, restoration and revitalization. There are some who want to erect a wall between people of faith and public service. I want to tear down that wall!
There are problems government can never solve unless we speak to the hearts of the people. It’s true that the role of a pastor is different from someone in public service, but the two roles should work hand in glove for the benefit of the community.
CWR: What was it like going out to meet the voters?
Kimberly Hahn: Most people I met were awesome. I promised them that I would do everything I could to bring about the renewal and revitalization of our community, as well as to bring back employment for youth.
I also admitted that, in the past, the city council hadn’t been prudent with our public dollars. We have old roads and old water and sewer lines. We need elected officials who will be good stewards of the public’s money.
CWR: Have you had any surprises since being elected?
Kimberly Hahn: I was actually expecting to have a bit harder of a time. A female council member quit a week after my election. I don’t believe she wanted to work with me. Later, another man who was recently elected quit. Both were replaced by great people. We also have an outstanding new city manager.
CWR: What does your family think of your election?
Kimberly Hahn: They’re very proud of me. My three youngest sons, in fact, campaigned with me.
CWR: How is your involvement in government a reflection of your Catholic faith?
Kimberly Hahn: This job would be impossible without it. I don’t have the skill or ability I need on my own. I need God’s wisdom, and the insight His grace gives.
It’s given me a few opportunities to talk about my faith while campaigning and in office. And, I have a list of our city council members and city department heads which I give to others and ask that they pray for us by name. And, they do. They pray with us, and walk with us.
It is my belief that God wants to raise up Steubenville as a sign of hope to other cities. We don’t need to be prosperous, but just to have the work we need so families can have jobs, stay married and provide for their needs.
CWR: Would you encourage other Catholics to get more involved in the political process, such as by running for public office?
Kimberly Hahn: Yes, if God places it in your heart. Ask people who know you well to assess your abilities honestly.
CWR: What are some qualities you think make for a good elected official? What do you look for when you vote?
Kimberly Hahn: I look for honesty and integrity; people who will be responsible with the people’s money. We need elected officials who are willing to listen, lead others and be not concerned about getting credit for good ideas.