Turning conversations into action and votes
A friendly face greets Susan as she introduces herself and her qualifications.
By Carla Lucas
When Susan Rzucidlo knocks on a door,
there's a moment of the unknown, loss of control, and anticipation.
Will she be welcomed with a friendly smile? Will the door be slammed
in her face? Or will she be greeted by someone wearing just their
In her third bid to represent Pennsylvania's 158th House District, she's seen it all. Nothing fazes her. Not even the two times the door swung open to reveal more than is socially acceptable. The first time, she was able to help an elderly gentleman with dementia get properly dressed. The second time, who knows -- to each their own.
With clipboard in hand, and literature and pet treats in a pack on her back, she picks a house in the day's targeted neighborhood, knocks on the door, introduces herself, and listens to whatever is on the resident's mind. Some conversations last 10 seconds, others go on for 20 minutes or more. This election season, property taxes and education funding are on most people's minds. In some parts of this district, the Keystone Pipeline is of great concern.
The face-to-face conversations are Rzucidlo's favorite part of campaigning. “I like to listen,” she said. “The best part is meeting people and learning their concerns. I want to be transparent and accessible. I tell people I don't always know the answer, but I know where to turn to get the answer.”
She gives everyone she talks to her cell phone number (610-659-3145) and encourages them to call if they need help or have questions.
A close second to listening is solving problems. Currently, as an advocate for the special-needs population, Rzucidlo works with government agencies and legislators. She developed the Pennsylvania Premise Alert System so that families with special needs can register their concerns with local police departments; and also a Communications Board, adopted around the country, to help non-English speakers communicate with EMTs, firefighters, and other first responders.
“I know that graduating qualified, capable and prepared young adults who will be valuable members of society is important not only for the students, but also for employers and our nation,” Rzucidlo said. “As an advocate, I work primarily in the public school system. This gives me unique insight, not only to the parents' perspective on public education, but also teacher and administration perspectives. I have volunteered with the Kennett School Districts inclusion committee, where the focus was not on special education, but on making sure that every student received an education that would address their needs.
“Kennett was very interested in making sure that students who were heading to college were well prepared, students who were going into the trades or a certificate program were prepared, and students who were heading out to work right out of high school were equally prepared,” Rzucidlo said.
A lifelong resident of the area, Rzucidlo raised four children (Phillip, Ben, Kate and Laura) with her husband Robert, known as Rusty. She became active in the special-needs community through trying to deal with the system because one of her children is autistic. The Premise Alert System was developed after many episodes of searching neighborhoods for their wandering child. Without normal communications skills, her autistic child could not communicate with police or first responders, but could point to pictograms to help communicate with them.
“I always believed government can do good things and we can do better than we have been doing,” Rzucidlo said. “As an advocate and problem solver, I want to fix issues like property taxes and the pension system. Today [legislators] are worrying about [which party] is going to win, and not working for the people. I think I can do so much more to bring all parties to the table and work for the people.”
Rzucidlo, who knocks on between 10,000 and 12,000 front doors in a typical campaign season, said “There are a lot of lovely front porches in Chester County.”
Before Labor Day, she is out five to six evenings every week, trying to meet as many of the District 158 voters as she can. After Labor Day, for the two months leading up to the November election, she goes out six to seven days a week.
Rzucidlo has a lot of ground to cover, since the district meanders from the Pennsylvania/Maryland border to West Goshen Township, with the midpoint in Embreeville. In Landenberg, both London Britain Township and New Garden Township are part of House District 158.
“A majority of the people are very nice,” Rzucidlo said. “Most people have never met the candidate. They are surprised to see you at their door. A few are rude, slam the door in your face and cuss you out because of your party [affiliation]. I really enjoy listening to all the people.”