The Courier spoke on the phone with Connie Di Cicco, the Democratic Party candidate running for Georgia House of Representatives District 44 (HD-44).
Di Cicco advanced as the only Democrat running in her primary in June.
She is running for the first time in her political career against Republican incumbent Don Parsons. Parsons was also the only candidate running in his primary, and has held his seat since 2013.
Di Cicco received more votes in her primary than Parsons did in his, implying that Parsons’s seat is more contested than it has been in the past.
She has worked for Georgia House Representative Mary Frances Williams, who represents District 37.
“I grew up in Georgia, I’m a Georgia native,” Di Cicco said. “My parents are actually from Michigan, they are from Detroit but they moved down here right before my older brother was born. They bought some property out on the outskirts of Roswell and that’s where we grew up.”
Di Cicco said both sides of her family come from immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 20th century.
Di Cicco’s father is a builder, she said, and has built on properties throughout Roswell and East Cobb County.
Di Cicco said she went to public schools in Georgia and that her first undergraduate year of college was spent at Vanderbilt University. She did not like Vanderbilt, so she ended up completing her undergraduate years at the University of Georgia.
Di Cicco said she eventually attended Florida State University and received her master’s degree in filmmaking from there.
She moved to North Carolina with her then-boyfriend who became her husband, where she was involved in a film festival.
She did documentary work. Eventually, she and her husband moved back to northeast Cobb County to raise their children.
How she went from filmmaking to politics
Di Cicco said she was already politically active but once she moved to Cobb County, she needed to find new friends.
“One of the first things I did here was reach out to a progressive women’s group and that was my goal … to make friends,” she said. “I just started volunteering for every campaign I possibly could and that’s how I got a group of friends. But also it was a way of helping women get elected.”
Di Cicco said through the progressive women’s group she eventually volunteered for the Williams campaign. From there, Di Cicco advanced to a staff position with Williams.
Experience under Williams
“A friend of mine asked me if I was interested in being a chief of staff for Mary Frances Williams and I immediately said no because I thought I couldn’t do the job,” Di Cicco said. “[My friend] and I sat down and talked, and she convinced me to give the job a try, and I fell in love with it.”
“Representative Williams is an incredible mentor,” Di Cicco continued. “We never knew I’d be running for office. That was not the original intent, but that kind of legislative work was a lot like filmmaking — it’s fast-paced, it’s emotional, Every single day is different, and you’re doing things that are of consequence, so it’s extremely challenging.”
“And when you go to sleep at night it’s really hard to shut your brain off — and I don’t mind any of that.”
Di Cicco said she and Williams attended almost every single event together and that from working with Williams, she learned a great deal about being a candidate, to campaign and what it was like to pass legislation.
“The one place I was not allowed to be was on the floor during session,” she said. “But the rest of that I was right alongside of her, so I think that gave me incredible experience just from knowing what the process is.”
“It also helps you to know if you really want to do that kind of work once you’ve signed up for it,” Di Cicco said. “That may be a turn-off, or just difficult if you don’t know what you’re heading into once you’re elected.”
What issues are most important to Di Cicco today
“Accessibility is a big one,” Di Cicco said. “I don’t like people feeling like they shouldn’t run for office or that politics isn’t for them or that their vote doesn’t matter. I kind of lump all of those together and that goes along with the amount of money that’s allowed in politics.”
“So right now it’s really difficult for let’s say, a teacher, or firefighter or police officer … people with those kinds of jobs, to run for office unless they’re retired,” she said. “But it would be great if they could run for office now because that experience is relevant today.”
She said it is important everyone is involved in politics because whether or not someone is political, every piece of legislation passed affects them.
Di Cicco said she is concerned about the amount of big money that goes into funding political campaigns.
“We pour so much into both sides just fighting for elections and a lot of people aren’t engaged in them,” Di Cicco said. “And so we need to up the amount of engagement and lower the amount of money because that money is all coming from the same sources it can go into. We have a lot of problems that need to be addressed in our communities and it can be spent a lot of different ways.”
Di Cicco said healthcare is another major issue dominating political conversations.
“We are going to have to have some sort of a reckoning with our healthcare system,” she said. “Not just with people who are insured and not insured, but people who are also paying for insurance that doesn’t really do anything for them, how people access their prescriptions, whether they are able to access their prescriptions and this widening gap between what I call these two Georgias.”
Uncomfortable conversations about Georgia’s infant and maternal mortality rates must be had, she said. The disparities in which people of color are treated by healthcare professionals and insurance companies must be addressed too.
Why do you call yourself a progressive?
“We are called progressive Democrats and really what we’re arguing for, we’re fighting for the basics,” Di Cicco said. “ The basics are healthcare, education, equity, equality and honestly those are things we should all want.”
“I want people to be paid a fair wage for the work they do,” she said. “For them to be treated fairly, for our children to have an excellent education, our teachers to be supported and to be paid fairly. Everybody deserves to have healthcare and to have clean air and water and to be represented by someone who cares about them and their future.”
Being progressive means not being afraid of change nor debates, she said.
“I’m not afraid about speaking up, or speaking out,” Di Cicco said. “And I’m also not afraid to listen about these things. Talking about these things, solving problems, that’s how we move our communities forward.”
Stance on Medicare-for-All
“I really have to see a bill before me,” she said. “It really depends on the particular bill because everything kind of hinges on that and I’m not averse to single-payer healthcare or Medicare-for-All but I would want to see something specific before really making a definite comment on that.”
“The problem is that we have so many issues that we need to address and I kind of touched on them earlier,” Di Cicco said. “When we talk about Medicaid and we talk about it with respect to maternal mortality, we expanded Medicaid by six months but really it was 12 months that was needed. It really has to be a specific bill in order to fully evaluate what we’re talking about, so it’s really hard for me to give a solid answer without seeing something specific.”
Thoughts on the local and federal response to the COVID-19 crisis
“I wouldn’t have been quiet and complicit,” Di Cicco said. “I would’ve been on the news every night. I wouldn’t have been wasting time and money on lawsuits against local leaders who were trying to protect their communities and their citizens.”
Di Cicco said she would have been gathering Georgia’s business leaders together to talk about the issue.
“Georgia is the home to the best and the brightest,” she said. “We have the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], we have UGA, Georgia Tech, Morehouse, Emory. I would be pooling all of these resources together. I would have made Georgia a model for how to approach this pandemic and bring all resources we have to bear and start from there.”
Di Cicco said she would surround herself with experts and that she would not sleep until she knew everything she possibly could about COVID-19.
She said she would be focused not just on data for the week, but for the next six months and the next year.
“We just had eight rural hospitals closed,” Di Cicco said. “There’s another two on the way, and there’s 12 more that are in financial straits, so I need to know blow by blow what’s going to happen because when we start having hospitals close, the next thing is that they’re going to be at capacity.”
“I would be anticipating and I would be planning for the worst and the next thing I would be doing is I would be attending funerals,” she said. “I would be listening to the stories of those that we’re losing, who were dying alone, and their families who couldn’t be there with them.”
“That would be the same for when I’m elected,” Di Cicco said. “There’s a very big piece that’s missing from all of this and when Democrats are elected, we are going to put science back into this — trusted sources, integrity, liability.”
People who need help often do not know where to look for answers, she said. People must have one place they can go to for trusted information, as there is a lot of misinformation shared with the public that creates chaos.
Reproductive justice in light of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“This issue is going to come down to the state and this is exactly why elections like house elections matter so much, and why this year’s elections will matter so much,” Di Cicco said.
“It’s been difficult since [Ginsburg’s] death and her passing,” she said. “Hopefully, at times like these, we can come and regain some strength and find like I said that collective power and use this as a time to find faith in our vote because that’s the best hope that we have.”
Position on paid family leave
“Paid family leave,” Di Cicco said. “It extends to companies that are large enough to be able to have it mandated by law to provide to their employees and a lot of businesses don’t have to provide paid family leave because they’re much smaller.”
Di Cicco said after she had her daughter she had to go back to work two weeks later. There was no paid family leave for her after giving birth to both her children.
“I returned really quickly after each one of them was born and my employer was really great, that’s just the fact of the situation,” she said. “[Returning to work after giving birth] makes it really difficult. It’s physically difficult, especially if you’re trying to breastfeed but it’s difficult mentally, physically and it’s difficult financially.”
“It’s really difficult for families who aren’t provided leave to come out of a financial hole if you’re having to take more time off work or somebody has to get a second or third job to make up for the fact that mom can’t go back to work right away,” she said.
Di Cicco said the time after giving birth is a critical time for both the family and the new baby, and so supporting families will make the community stronger.
Can you expand on your environmental position?
Di Cicco said she had a lot of experience with Williams on environmental issues, as Williams was on the House’s Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
“There was a huge coal ash issue in Cobb County and there’s close to 7 million tons of coal ash near the Chattahoochee River at the Georgia Power plant in Cobb County,” Di Cicco said.
“These are issues that are harming the entire community,” she said. “Sterigenics was another one that came up which received a lot of attention. These are causing real damage and have the potential to do serious, serious harm, not just to the environment but also to the entire community.”
Di Cicco said while taking pictures for Williams at the Georgia Power plant in Cobb she witnessed a little boy who lived next to the plant who kicked a ball that had gone into a culvert.
The boy ran into the stream and was chasing the ball on Georgia Power property.
“How many times a day, a week does that happen and no one’s monitoring that? It’s extremely alarming,” she said. “These are issues of environmental consequence but it’s also environmental justice because there’s a lot of people who don’t have the time to be aware or the time to fight for these kinds of issues.”
“Somebody has to not only know about them but has to take the time, money, energy and know the proper channels to bring these issues to light and get them solved,” she said.
“Because that child is going to continue to go into that culvert to get that ball and that ash is going to continue. They just pile it up,” Di Cicco said. “It’s going to continue to be in the air by his house and by the daycare that’s by that plant.
Di Cicco said there’s room for improvement in Georgia on environmental issues and said environmental incentives should be created.
“We could be putting solar panels everywhere. We’re Georgia. There’s sun,” she said. “We need to explore all the options and start taking advantage of them.”
How she would rewrite voting laws
Di Cicco is in support of restoring the Voting Rights Act, championed by the late Congressman John Lewis.
“We need protections here to help stop voter suppression,” Di Cicco said. “We need to make voting accessible and remove as many obstacles as possible. Voting is a good thing and we shouldn’t be afraid that one side or the other is going to have access.”
Di Cicco said engagement with young voters is lacking currently as they cannot trust politicians.
“If we don’t have youth engagement, 18 to 35-year-olds, who’s going to be voting in 10, 15 years? We need to figure out a way to make the system have integrity,” she said. “One of the ways to do that, to rewrite these laws, is to make it so people who are working can vote.”
Di Cicco said there should be weekend voting, as not everyone can get to the polls during the week because of work.
She also said conversations around letting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people vote should be happening.
“We need to put in voter purge protections,” Di Cicco said. “We should allow same-day and online registration. We need to remove poll taxes, which would be stamps on our absentee mail-in ballots. [We need] automatic voter registration, we need to create a lot of opportunities for people to vote in the evenings and on the weekend and making it safer for people to vote during times of crisis.”
“Now that we have been through this [pandemic], we can plan ahead and anticipate and make it safer for people because it benefits the entire community,” she said.
Position on gun control
Di Cicco said she would like to see universal background checks to prevent guns from getting in the hands of the wrong people.
“Red flag laws, and sometimes they’re called extreme risk laws, allows for family members and law enforcement officers, that gives them a tool to intervene if there’s evidence there’s someone who poses a threat to themselves or others with a firearm,” she said.
“It still protects due process, so red flag laws are another way that we can institute common-sense gun safety measures,” Di Cicco said. “We need to keep guns away from domestic abusers and we also need to increase funding into gun violence crisis and the programs that address it.”
Your campaign supports a $15 minimum wage and connects it to affordable housing. Why?
“It’s very difficult to find houses in a lower price range in Cobb County but not only in Cobb County, but all throughout Atlanta it’s extremely difficult to find it,” Di Cicco said.
For someone working full time, $15 an hour comes out to $600 a week, she said.
“If you do the math on that it comes out to less than $30,000 a year so that’s $28,800 a year,” Di Cicco said. “That’s $15 an hour. And that’s why I connect that and housing affordability because that is not a livable wage.”
“If you have children, you cannot pay insurance, a house payment, a car payment, utilities, maybe you have student loan debt — on $30,000 a year,” she said. “So this is why we can go back to progressive because we need to push this.”
“Georgia is woefully behind on this and I think that says a lot when we are even denying people $15 an hour and we are telling them that they are asking for too much because a lot of people would never accept a job for under $30,000, let alone $30,000 a year,” Di Cicco said.
“But $30,000 a year will not get you a mortgage on a house,” she said. “That’s why I connect the two because that doesn’t make any sense, you can’t have $15 an hour and houses that are $400,000 or more as a starting price range.”
“Georgia — we need to be a model, we can do this,” Di Cicco said. “We have all the best things here and we used to do this, so there’s no reason why we can’t. We could still have a great economy, we could still be number one in business, and we could still have a fantastic minimum wage here.”
On evictions occurring in Cobb during the pandemic
Di Cicco said that she worked with many residents who were getting evicted over the summer. She said a woman with five children was evicted and about half of what the woman owed were late fees and court costs.
“And that’s the problem, we don’t want landlords to be missing out on their rent,” Di Cicco said. “I understand that from a business side, but when you’re punishing people there has to be a middle ground. You can’t be punishing people with thousands of dollars in late fees, people will never get out of it. It’s like credit card debt, they’ll never be able to catch up.”
Di Cicco compared evictions happening now to the recession of 2008.
“We’re about to see a whole bunch of evictions and housing closures and mortgages and all those things that happened in 2008,” she said. “We have to have some help for people and Cobb has a program. We have to make sure, though, that it’s getting to the right people and that the outreach is happening so that the people who are actually affected by the potential of being evicted can get access to those programs.”
If a person does not have internet they may not have seen that a newsletter about what to do if facing eviction went out to Cobb residents, Di Cicco said.
“We just have to make sure that the word is getting out,” she said.
On Black Lives Matter protests and police brutality
“When there is racism of any kind, and there are others who stand by and don’t say anything it’s your obligation,” Di Cicco said. “You are complicit unless you stand up and say something about that.”
Di Cicco said she thinks the issues of today reflect the current presidential administration.
“We have a president who has actively stood by supremacists,” she said. “This has happened several times and then you have an administration that stands behind him and is complicit with those statements and I feel these demonstrations are refusing to be complicit with what’s happening.”
“When you have a police officer acting with that level of brutality and inhumanity and those officers standing basically in solidarity or in silence along with them, yes, they have to go, that cannot be tolerated,” Di Cicco said.
Di Cicco’s brother was a police officer and she said that from law enforcement’s perspective, many police are put into difficult situations.
“We have officers that — the ones that are doing their jobs — we are placing them in untenable positions where you’ve given them a weapon, they kiss their families goodbye and they go out the door and are placed in situations where they may be the last person they see before they die,” she said.
“They witness fires and shootings and all kinds of things and then walk back into their homes, kiss their families hello, and have dinner and that’s what we ask of them every single day and then we ask them to do it again the next day,” Di Cicco said.
Di Cicco said more conversations needs to be had where communities are reimagined.
To reimagine communities, protestors, law enforcement, community leaders, state representatives and more should come together for a discussion.
“I think that our streets have become militarized,” she said. “I think that the [National Rifle Association] plays a big part in this and no one talks about it. They should be brought into this discussion and held accountable.”
“But we have this great opportunity right now to reimagine communities and talk about, what do you want your community to look like? And that community in Powder Springs is not going to look the same as it is in Roswell … is not going to look the same as it is in Macon, but communities should do that now and say this is how,” Di Cicco said.
“We should make those discussions accessible so the people who are working can actually come to those and sit down and say yes, I agree or say no, this is what we should do,” she said. “But I think that protestors voicing that they do not — I can’t speak for all of them — but they will not stand by while this continues to happen. There is no other choice but to say I can’t watch this anymore.”
How do you feel about Cobb police having access to military-style weapons?
“This is probably part of the NRA discussion,” Di Cicco said. “They have, the NRA, has militarized everyone. The police need to have tools and the tools are because everybody else has military-grade weapons.”
“The police have to be able to protect and serve,” she said. “So ideally, those are not to be used on civilians, those are to be used for SWAT or for special missions or for criminals.”
“I think this goes back to our conversation on common-sense gun laws and if the police are the only ones who have these kinds of things that’s probably where they should be, is with the police,” Di Cicco said.
How do you think you differ best from your opponent, besides the obvious difference in political parties?
Di Cicco said she is much more accessible than her opponent.
“I make myself very visible and I enjoy engaging with people,” she said. “So I really have a very open-door policy where I don’t mind debate, I don’t mind hearing people with differing opinions.”
“I do take everything into consideration and I think about all different sides,” she said. “I don’t like to think that I’m right all the time, so I want to hear from a lot of different sides because again, I like challenges and I like to be challenged too.”
“I think that, for me, the idea of representation is someone who is actively involved in creating a two-way street, otherwise it’s not as interesting,” Di Cicco said. “So I’m really trying to create it that way and hopefully that impression is getting across and I think that’s a very big difference.”
What do you want voters to know most about you and your campaign?
“We got in this campaign to really represent this district and the state of Georgia because we felt like this district had been overlooked for a really long time,” Di Cicco said. “I think that they should know that I am compassionate, and again accessible, and that I take this job very seriously.”
“And that we are here to fight for Georgians and to make sure that they have the representation that they deserve.”
Arielle Robinson is an undergrad at Kennesaw State University. She is the president of the university’s Society of Professional Journalists and an editor at the KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books and collecting books and records.