Jessica Fitzwater keeps long days. She’s a second-generation educator, two-term Frederick County Council member, a mother of two young children, and now the Democratic Party’s candidate in the race for county executive of fast-growing Frederick County.
Throughout her career as an elementary music teacher, she’s made her mark on her local Frederick County Teachers Association (FCTA) and MSEA, gaining leadership skills and political savvy serving on the FCTA Board of Directors, MSEA’s Resolutions and Legislation and Citizenship committees, and as a two-time delegate to MSEA’s annual Representative Assembly.
Early in her career, Jessica heard buzz about “union thugs,” and that unions like hers weren’t in sync with their members. She quickly became active in FCTA to combat that kind of misinformation. “I attended my first-ever board of education and board of county commissioners meetings—and paid attention to their agendas and the quality of public engagement—because of my union,” she said. “I learned quickly that elected leaders need to hear our stories and how funding education at the bare minimum affects our students, educators, and schools.”
Now that she’s on the receiving end of advocacy, Jessica knows what it’s like to be the concerned community member coming to the microphone and says it makes her a better council member. “I’ve seen elected officials not paying attention or making eye contact. I know how important it is to listen—everyone deserves to be heard.”
In the early 2010s, Frederick County was struggling. Its Board of County Commissioners was aggressively anti-public education and anti-worker. Jessica could see the writing on the wall and through her union leadership journey with FCTA, MSEA, and NEA, Jessica knew it was important to advocate and engage with public officials. She’d also been tapped to be among the first class of Emerge Maryland—the highly regarded training program for Democratic women. At the same time, the county was shifting to a charter government—no longer would a board of commissioners run things, instead, an elected county council and county executive would lead and open doors for more voices to be heard. She was primed to fight back against the old guard’s entrenched politics.
Right now, Frederick County education advocates are fighting even more hostile anti-public education school board candidates and local governments who have and/or hope to cut funding, ban books, enact anti-LGBTQIA+ policies, and limit a fair and honest curriculum and teacher autonomy. Across the state and country, frightening ideologies are emerging in both statewide and local elections, including in the race for Maryland governor. Jessica and a slate of fellow pro-public education candidates are carrying the message of equity and fairness in Frederick County.
“It was the perfect storm for me to step up and run. It was a big decision and change is always scary. But I never looked back once I made the decision,” Jessica said. “I know how important it is to have new and different voices and perspectives in leadership positions, and that’s what I bring to the table.
“Now, after eight years on the council working on affordable housing, standing up for social justice, investing record amounts in public education and public safety, and essentially building the new charter government plane as we’re flying it, I’m uniquely qualified to be county executive and I’m ready for it!”