A Servant’s Heart

Danny O’Connor ’09 reflects on his time at Wright State, his passion for public service, and his current run for Congress

By Kim Patton

Danny O’Connor first tipped his toes into the world of politics as a student at Wright State University. Active in College Democrats, O’Connor became president of Wright State’s chapter in 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.

“I always joked that my presidency saw a 1,000 percent increase in membership,” said O’Connor. “It wasn’t necessarily because of me; it was because of Barack Obama.”

For O’Connor, the 2008 presidential election demonstrated the powerful impact of young voters. It also served as a reminder that the common hopes and dreams that unite the American people are stronger than the differences that divide them.

“If we focus on the positive at any level of government or in the community,” said O’Connor, “we can move things forward in the right direction.”

Ten years later, O’Connor is making his own run to affect change. In May, he won the Democratic nomination for a vacant seat in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. The Central Ohio district includes Delaware, Licking, and Morrow counties and portions of Franklin, Marion, Muskingum, and Richland counties.

“I think we have a serious opportunity to hit the reset button on the way our economy works, on the way our health care system works, on the way our entire government functions,” said O’Connor. “My focus will be on making sure that I’m someone who represents the folks in the 12th District in the way that they deserve to be represented.”

If O’Connor wins the special election on August 7, he won’t be in office long before he has to square off once again for the general election in November.

“I’m lucky to have a ton of grassroots support across every aspect of this district,” he said. “That’s because of a lot of really generous people who agree with my desire to fight back special interests, my desire that everybody has access to care.”

Health care has been one of the linchpins in O’Connor’s campaign. It’s an issue that has great meaning to him personally.

During his freshman year at Wright State, O’Connor’s mother, Richele—who taught teacher education at Wright State for nearly 20 years—was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“She had access to quality health care and access to a new drug that was on the forefront of fighting back this disease. Everybody deserves to have that. No one should have to worry about their mom having quality care all because of her job or her place in society,” he said. “That’s what I want to fight for—this concept that every single person, no matter what their background is, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from—has their shot at the American dream that they deserve.”

That deep-rooted desire to preserve the American dream has been a driving force in O’Connor’s life since his graduation from Wright State in 2009. After receiving his B.A. in political science, O’Connor spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps where he worked in a legal clinic in The Bronx, New York, in the poorest Congressional district in the United States.

Helping veterans with housing issues and families facing eviction proved to be an eye-opening experience for O’Connor.

“It shows you,” he said, “that every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and is worthy of an opportunity to have the resources that they need to achieve something in their life.”

After graduating from Syracuse University College of Law, O’Connor became a partner with Weis Law Group. In 2016, he was elected Franklin County Recorder.

“I’m proudest of the way that I’ve transformed the Recorder’s office from being not necessarily the beacon of good government to a well-run office,” he said. “We do a lot of good things for folks who need help like veterans, the homeless, and people in communities of color who have issues with health care documents.”

Regardless of the outcome of the election, O’Connor plans to keep fighting for normal, everyday people who share his desire to make this nation a better place.

“I have a servant’s heart. My goal is to do good for my community and to advocate for those who haven’t had a voice for a very long time,” he explained. “It doesn’t matter to me where they come from. It doesn’t matter to me who they love. It doesn’t matter to me how much money they make. If you’re willing to work hard and give it your all, I think you should have a shot at the American dream.”