Lindy Li’s decision to leave a successful finance career and run for Congress began with the tragic events of December 14, 2012, the day a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and six staff members.
“December 14 is also my birthday and it has become my personal mission to do something about gun violence,” Li said.
Currently running as a Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s 5th congressional district, Li’s campaign is focused around progressive issues, including campaign finance reform and immigration. But atop her legislative agenda, Li said, is passing gun control legislation.
“I have an overall sense of mission and a burden to do something about universal background checks,” she said. She also believes in closing the so-called gun show loophole, implementing waiting periods for purchases and banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“These are commons sense things we can do,” Li said. “We wait for politicians to get their act together, we will wait for the rest of our lives.”
The biggest obstacle to passing stricter gun laws is huge amounts of special interest money flowing into politics today, she said. It’s a system Li likened to “institutionalized bribery.”
“We sold our democracy to the highest bidder and I want to be the people’s public servant,” she said. “You can’t buy me.”
Born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, Li immigrated to the United States when she was five.
“I think America is the greatest thing that has ever happened. America is more than a physical location, it’s an idea. A flame that I want to keep alive,” she said.
In 2015, Li left her finance job at Morgan Stanley to run in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. Before the primary, Li tried to switch to the 6th District, but the courts took her off the ballot because of discrepancies with signatures on her ballot petition.
This cycle, Li had no such issues, and will appear on the primary ballot as one of 14 Democrats vying to represent the 5th Congressional District, which has been completely redrawn after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the old district to be unfairly gerrymandered. Before the decision, the district was far more favorable to Republicans, but according to the The Cook Political Report’s partisan index, the district has now swung fully 13 percentage points in favor of Democrats.
More encouraging for the Democrats? There is no incumbent to challenge in November. Republican Patrick Meehan stepped down after it was revealed he used taxpayer money to settle a $40,000 sexual harassment claim against him.
That has given Li’s supporters reason for optimism.
“(Li) is the most heartfelt and passionate candidate for United States Congress that I have ever met,” said Mike Mandel, who began canvasing for her in early March. “She’ll break so many barriers. Having a woman of color who doesn’t even speak English as her first language, to me, is important because Congress is a sea of all white men.”
– Text and images by Robert Cochran