A year ago, after Catholic apologist Kimberly Hahn had “poured heart and soul” into home schooling for 26 years, she sent her youngest son off to a Catholic high school. She asked her husband, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Scott Hahn, “Now what?” He replied, “Maybe it’s time for politics?” The conversation would propel her into a campaign for Steubenville, Ohio, City Council against a popular incumbent, leading to an 2,711-2,166 vote win.
“It’s been an amazing adventure, with the odds against us,” she said, noting that she won as a Republican and in a city that seldom elects women to the council.
Hahn held 29 coffee meetings, as well as a major event for Franciscan University graduates still living in the area. She recorded five “Steubenville: Why Not?” videos, asking the community such questions as why the riverfront area was not developed or biking/hiking trails created. The publicity efforts were needed, she said, “because while I’m known in a lot of places in the world, I was not well known in Steubenville.”
Her campaigning even took her to the city’s impoverished projects, where the few who were registered to vote were not inclined to vote for a Republican. However, she countered, “I was running for a position to represent everyone who lives in the city. I wanted to look them in the eye and say, ‘I care about what you care about.’”
Her efforts yielded fruit. She related that one man in the projects, for example, said, “No one has ever come to my door to ask for my vote. So, you have it!”
The city’s chief problems, she said, include crime, especially related to drugs and prostitution, lack of jobs and its unattractive appearance. Steubenville once thrived as a mill town, but since the mills closed, the community went into a period of decline, jobs left and young people began moving away. In the past, local government was part of the problem, she said, as “the council was not a good steward of the people’s dollars. We have old roads, old water and sewer lines.”
In contrast to the city’s Franciscan University campus, many feel unsafe in the city itself. In fact, one law enforcement officer advised her to get a permit and carry a gun as she went about her campaigning. She refused, and said, “I have never felt threatened.”
Her most enthusiastic supporters included her family. In fact, her three youngest sons joined her on the campaign trail.
She surprised many with her upset victory, especially her opponent, Kenny Davis. “He thought I didn’t have a shot at it,” Hahn said. “He was deeply surprised and disappointed.”
Eric Timmons, a U.S. Bank branch manager who is also a recent addition to the Steubenville City Council, said, “Kimberly ran an extremely nice campaign. She is always open to new ideas, and the people liked what she was offering.”
Hahn was born and raised Presbyterian. She married her husband, Scott, a Presbyterian minister, in 1979. Scott converted to Catholicism in 1986 and went on to distinguish himself as a theologian, teacher and author. Initially distressed about her husband’s conversion, Hahn entered the Catholic Church herself in 1990. They have since written and spoken frequently about the story of their conversion, including in their 1993 book, “Rome Sweet Home” (Ignatius Press, $15.95).
While Scott Hahn is well known in Catholic circles, Kimberly Hahn is an accomplished apologist herself. She has written five books related to marriage and family life and is always ready to share her beliefs.
Hahn’s faith has pervaded her entry into politics and animates her service on the council. She believes that Steubenville can become a role model for other Rust Belt towns that have undergone an era of decline. “I believe God wants to use Steubenville as a place where people of faith are involved in renewal, restoration and revitalization,” she said.
Both of Hahn’s grandparents served as elected officials in the state of Washington, and she has long had an interest in how faith interacts with the public square. Too often, she said, society has built a wall between people of faith and public servants, “but I want to tear down that wall.”
Priests and pastors may not be called to administrate cities, “but they should work hand in glove with those who do.”
Without God’s help, her work would be impossible, she admits, “as I don’t have the skill or ability on my own. I need God’s help; I rely on him for wisdom and insight.” She regularly solicits fellow believers to pray for her, the other council members and the city’s department heads by name.
The city has seen major changes in less than a year. Two council members have resigned, allowing the council to fill their seats. Additionally, the city has hired a new city manager whom Hahn describes as “outstanding.” Her greatest surprise since taking office, she said, was that “I was expecting a bit harder time. But we’ve been able to bring in some great people who want to work to improve the city.”
Hahn has spearheaded her own city beautification efforts, some of which began before she was elected. In one instance, she saw a dilapidated brick house slated for demolition. She asked the owner to donate the bricks, which he did, and is now using them to create an attractive city entrance sign. She persuaded members of the brick layers union to volunteer their time to create the sign, and she is inviting residents to donate flowers from their gardens to plant around it. The entire project is free to taxpayers.
“Kimberly’s great strength is her creativity,” Timmons said. I think she’s going to help bring about a lot of positive changes to the city. I’ve also found that I share many of the same values.”
Hahn said, “The people want to bring beauty and order to the town. I think projects like the new city entrance sign will inspire more new projects, and we’ll be well on our way.”
Jim Graves writes from California.