As she battles one-term State Representative Eric Roe for the right to represent the 158th District in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, Christina Sappey spoke with VISTA Today about growing outside New York City, following a boyfriend to Pine Manor College outside of Boston, and transferring to Penn State before her junior year where she majored in Foreign Service.
Following graduation, Sappey entered Lord & Taylor’s executive training program where she learned to “work quickly, be decisive, and consider the big picture,” before returning to Pennsylvania and Chester County, where she served as Chief of Staff for Barb McIlvaine Smith and State Representative Carolyn Comitta.
Christina concludes the conversation by sharing the issues she would like to work on in Harrisburg, including the environment, public education funding, the state’s broken budgeting process, and gun violence prevention.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born the oldest of two children in Princeton, New Jersey and raised in Pocantico Hills, New York, right outside of New York City. It was an area very similar to Chester County. My mother was a school teacher, and my father worked for RCA as an international patent-license negotiator.
What memories do you have a growing up in Pocantico Hills?
I was very fortunate to have two parents who loved each other. My brother and I never doubted how much they loved us. My maternal grandmother lived with us and we had a very strong relationship with her also. There was always music and laughter in our house.
We spent a lot of time outdoors when I was growing up. In the spring, I was outside picking lily of the valley and in the summers, I was picking raspberries, making mud pies and going to swim practice. My brother and I were always playing and building forts in the woods. In the winters, we skated on frozen ponds and went sledding. I had an ideal childhood.
What was your first job?
I had a few different jobs. I babysat from the time I was eleven years old through college. I also did some house cleaning and yard work. In the summers, I was a camp counselor at a nearby day camp. I commuted to Wall Street one summer to work in a corporate shareholder records department, so I had several different work experiences.
What lessons did you take from those jobs that stay with you today?
Between babysitting and being a camp counselor, I learned the power of people placing trust in you. People were entrusting their children to me. I understood how serious that was.
Did you ever not deliver on that trust?
I remember a time I was babysitting two kids and their dog got out of the house, and the kids ran out of the house after the dog. I was told not to let the dog out because there was a pond that the dog loved to swim in and he was a fluffy little white thing. Well, we ran out after the dog and got locked out of the house.
Luckily, my parents lived up the hill, so we were able to trek up to their house with the dirty dog, and my dad was able to get us back in the house.
That was a real lesson for me. The parents had entrusted their children and fluffy white dog to me, and it didn’t go that well!
What kind of music were you listening to in college?
Everything! My parents loved to dance so I would steal their swing albums. I also sang in choruses in middle school, high school and at church, so I enjoyed classical music and jazz. And in college, I loved Crosby Stills Nash and Young, James Taylor, Springsteen, The Police and anything classic rock at that time.
Did you play any sports in high school?
From a very young age, I was a competitive swimmer, played tennis and rode horses at a nearby show barn. Later in high school I was on the tennis team, played intramural soccer and field hockey and was on the cheerleading squad.
At one point, I had to make a choice between riding and swimming and I ended up choosing swimming. I was a better swimmer than rider! In swimming, I received numerous “most improved” or “best in age group” awards throughout the years. I swam to stay fit in college but did not compete.
Where did you go to College?
I went to Pine Manor College, a small women’s college in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts and then ended up transferring to Penn State.
Why Pine Manor?
I wanted to be in Boston because I was following a boyfriend who was in school there, something I would advise any young person now not to do! Pine Manor is a beautiful school, and because it is so small, I knew I’d grow as a student and a person during my time there. I went to a very small, competitive public high school and thrived in that small environment. I also still believe that women’s colleges provide tremendous value.
Why did you transfer to Penn State?
Originally, Pine Manor was a junior college, so a lot of people just left after two years even after it became a four-year college. I was very interested in international relations at the time. Pine Manor did not have international relations program, but there was a foreign service program I was very interested in at Penn State. Because my parents went to Penn State, I always had an affinity for the school.
What did you do when you graduated?
I went back to New York and worked in the fashion industry. I was recruited into the executive training program with Lord and Taylor. It was extremely challenging – fast paced, with a tremendous amount of time and financial pressure. I learned how to work quickly, be decisive, and consider the big picture. I also learned not to let negative input or circumstances affect me.
Who helped you get to where you are today?
Without a doubt, my parents. My father always impressed upon us the importance of listening, consensus building, and collaboration.
My mother always emphasized love, tolerance and inclusion. She was one of the first people to illustrate what it meant to accept everybody regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity or social standing. To this day, she is an extraordinarily loving and accepting person. It’s a big break to have parents that type of foundation.
I’ve also had the good fortune to work for and learn from successful, inspiring people. Ann Freedberg and Nancy Leary at Lord & Taylor were just brilliant people to work for. They were very tough. I think setting the bar high is one of the best things a boss can do for you.
Later on, Rep. Barb McIllvaine-Smith, Senator Andy Dinniman, and Rep. Carolyn Comitta – all set the bar very high and I knew I had to strive to deliver on their expectations and more importantly, the public’s.
Before you decided to run for State Rep, what did you do?
I was Chief of Staff for Barb McIlvaine Smith during her time in office as State Representative. After that, I was Director of Legislative Initiatives for State Senator Andy Dinniman. Most recently, I served as Chief of Staff to State Representative Carolyn Comitta after she was elected.
What made you decide to run for State Rep?
I decided to run because I have been watching what’s going on in our state government for the last 12 years and it’s very discouraging. Year after year, I’ve seen our government become more polarized and dysfunctional.
Under the guise of fiscal responsibility, I’ve watched the legislature actually become irresponsible with our budget, and I just honestly felt like new people were needed to bring order back to our state government. I could see and hear the dissatisfaction of our citizens every day.
I believe at this point, with my comprehensive background in business, my non-profit and community experience, my ability to navigate and collaborate, my roles as a mother, wife and daughter to aging parents that I’m uniquely qualified for this job.
What Issues will you focus on if you win?
I’m going to focus on our two constitutional mandates – protecting the environment and providing thorough and efficient public education. We have a constitutional responsibility to deliver these things and I believe we could be doing much more in both areas.
I also believe that our budget process and our economic strategies are failing us. We need some government reforms, such as no budget, no pay. There’s a lot we could do to grow the economy here in Pennsylvania too. I have a lot of ideas about how we could do that statewide.
To alleviate the property tax burden our senior citizens face every day, we need to grow the economy and bring that revenue in statewide. By attracting new industries that would create family sustaining jobs, we would generate new revenue that would allow us to uphold our constitutional mandate for clean air, clean water, clean soil, and the best public education we can offer our students.
What are your ideas for growing Pennsylvania’s economy?
I believe it’s very important to support our mid-sized and small businesses, as well as our larger corporations. We need to make it easier to start and grow a small business here and with our aging population we have a great opportunity in the service sector as well.
I also believe that it’s time to encourage businesses that provide environmental services that will help us reach our carbon emissions goals. Finally, there are many ways that we can automate functions to reduce costs in government and I hope to fight for implementation of these statewide.
What are other important issues you would like to work on should you win?
I’ve spoken to a lot of folks in the 158th District, and throughout Chester County, who are tired of waiting for gun violence prevention. Our legislature has been very slow to move on this. I believe the legislation removing guns from domestic abusers should have been brought up in the House last year, but the Speaker didn’t want to run the bill. Lives have undoubtedly been lost as a result of this delay.
The other issues that are very important to people in the 158th District are a woman’s right to choose and access to affordable health care. These beliefs in the 158th are not currently being represented.
Finally, Christina, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
My dad always told me to, “work hard and be good.” He always ended everything with “be good.” He died two years ago.
Representative Carolyn Comitta said something to me this past winter that is still written on my kitchen chalkboard. She said, “Fear and regret are the thieves of tomorrow.” She may have been quoting someone else, but I quote her with that one.
Carolyn’s quote had a large part to do with what I’m doing now – you can overcome your fear, but you’ll always carry regret. I didn’t want to regret this moment. I have an opportunity to represent the people of the 158th accurately and with integrity, and I want to do that.