A heartfelt essay by Florida builder and single woman, Cynthia Russell, won her the first of 10 seats to attend the Obama inauguration celebration in Washington, D.C. The essay was written in response to a competition offered by the Obama inauguration team. SingularCity talked to Cyndi at the airport as she was returning home from New York after being interviewed for the Today Showby Barbara Walters.
Q: How did this exciting adventure come about?
I registered online to support the Obama campaign. From time to time, I would send in a small donation. Recently I got an e-mail mentioning the inauguration plans and that ten people would be selected to go to Washington D.C. to attend the event. To be considered, you had to write a short essay of why it was important to you. So I filled that out and sent $20. I thought they would probably choose someone who sent $50,000! But they chose me! Being the first one chosen got me on the Today Show!
Q: Can you tell SingularCity a bit about you?
I just turned 50 in September. I started a construction company 18 years ago. I build residential homes and apartments. In my essay, I wrote that for 18 years I was able to support myself and help out my mom. But now, because of this housing crisis, people aren’t buying houses. So I am struggling to keep my business going. With the market being slow, I also started a staging company. We take furniture and put it in vacant homes to help people sell them, but although it may work in bigger cities, it’s not really taking off in my area. People just don’t want to spend the money. I also own and manage forty apartments that I built. Thankfully, those are doing really well.
Q: Do you find that it is tougher being a single person in this economy?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. My boyfriend Chris does help out — I don’t know what I would do without his help now. There are ways of cutting the corners when you are single that you don’t want to do when you’re with someone, like Christmas with his family. There are all the gifts to buy and other extra costs. Chris is in the same business — he builds cabinetry for residential jobs, so he is suffering as well. I keep wondering if I should do something else, should I wait another year… there is just no answer. So hopefully on Jan 20 things will start to change.
Q: How did they let you know you won the seat? What was your first reaction?
I thought that if someone won, they would just get the tickets mailed to them. But it didn’t happen that way. On Monday night — after all the holiday fuss had finally died down around here, I told Chris, “ I just want to relax on the couch and read Barbara Walter’s book.” I got to the part where she got a job at the Today Show and the phone rang. It was about 9 p.m. and Sam Teller from the Obama Inaugural Committee was on the line. He said they had read my essay. He didn’t tell me I had won — he just asked me a bunch of questions. I wasn’t quite sure where the conversation was going, whether he was going to ask for another donation or… Finally he said, “Well, I have good news! You are the very first winner!”
I was so excited I jumped up and down! I just couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking my boyfriend Chris had set someone up to call me. I had tried to get him to write an essay because he is a better writer. I thought they would probably have picked his. But they ended up picking mine. I’ve been on cloud nine ever since. They flew me out to New York yesterday afternoon and I did the Today Show today, where I was interviewed by Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry. It’s just been a whirlwind. The Washington Post just called. I’ve done two radio interviews over the phone. All the Florida magazines have called. It’s been nuts!
Q: Do you know what they have planned for you at the inauguration?
I don’t know yet. They still have nine other people to pick. I got the blurb they sent to everyone from Michelle Obama about me winning, and it said I would be attending the Neighborhood Ball. I guess I have to go buy a dress now!
Q: What is particularly significant about this election — things that touch you personally?
What touches me is the message of change, of course. I know people who are Republicans who voted for him because they knew that change in Washington needed to come. In fact, I had always voted Republican before this election and now I am a Democrat. My hopes are that Obama will change the way Washington is run forever — and that they will stop wasting our money with pork barrel projects. I don’t know how they get away with it. You and I get up and go to work and send our taxes and hope that those in D.C will manage them, and I don’t think they have. I’m hoping all that will change.
What I asked in my essay is why aren’t the American people — the ones who pay the taxes — the special interest right now? We’re losing our jobs, our income. How about paying attention to us for a change, rather than Wall Street corporations and lobbyists?
I’m hoping that finally we will have affordable health care. My insurance just doubled since I have started covering myself. And the war — bringing the soldiers home. But really, it is more about the economy now, because it’s touching all of us.
When the announcement came out that I had won, I got a ton of emails from supporters — people I don’t know — from all over the U.S. wishing me the best luck. I just think everybody worked really hard to get Obama elected and they want to finally see him sworn in. It’s like our job is done at this point. Getting all the feedback from the other Obama supporters was an extra little plus I wasn’t expecting.