Fighting for the People

Woman emerging from NY subway entrance
Kim Watkins emerges from a subway station in Manhattan

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

Kim Watkins (B.A., 91) is on a crusade to improve New York City’s public schools, particularly those in low-income areas, and to improve the lives of people who live there. The first in her family to earn a college degree, she not only “talks the talk” but “walks the walk,” or more aptly in her case, “runs the run!”

Course Correction at CSU

Growing up in Tidewater, Virginia, a small town on Chesapeake Bay where her grandfather served on the school board, she often thought about moving away and seeing more of the world. That and the fact she wanted to become a veterinarian led her to CSU. After physics and organic chemistry changed her vocational plans, she discovered what became a life-long passion in government, majoring in political science. Watkins loved her time at CSU, including the Honors floor in Newsom Hall, Morgan Library, the Ramskeller, and (yes, she really said this!) the Clark Building. Having participated in the Model U.N. in high school, she launched the program at CSU. She also served as vice president of Pi Beta Phi.

After graduation, she returned to Virginia and took a management position with Anheuser Busch, a company she had worked for summers during high school, supervising a section of rides at Busch Gardens. While in Williamsburg, she started dating a fellow who talked her into moving to New York City, where she became a director of the breast-cancer organization, Komen Foundation. Its “Race for the Cure” 5K races are held across the country; through them, Watkins “came to know the running world.”

Her next career move came after trying to launch a dot.com in 2000; she studied for and took the GMAT. This led to teaching GMAT preparation courses for Kaplan and later taking a founding role with the upstart Manhattan GMAT boutique. However, after she and husband Brian Quill decided to start a family, she changed careers, working with a girlfriend who owned a fitness company and later buying her out.

Two people doing elbow bump
Watkins campaigning in Manhattan

Drawn to Public Service

When daughter Harper started school, Watkins felt a “tug toward civic responsibilities.” The school system was “a legacy of institutional racism,” and those who suffered most were Black and Brown children living in poor areas. Watkins and her husband had purchased a coop apartment in Harlem, which is located in New York City’s Borough of Manhattan. The school their daughter attended was low in enrollment and performance metrics, which led to her immersion in the politics of the largest school system in the country. It was not long until she was elected to the school board and had “a front row seat to resource allocation issues.” She notes that of every dollar received, only 60% went to school operations; the rest went “to patronage for power centers.” She served three terms, twice being elected school board president. She also was elected to the board of the coop building where her family lives.

This career and personal path led to Watkins’ current candidacy for Manhattan Borough president. In announcing her candidacy, she has pledged to run every inch of the 508 miles of street in Manhattan prior to the June 2021 primary election to raise awareness of gentrification, closed retail stores, and climate change issues in Manhattan neighborhoods. Recently she launched that effort, running 32 miles around the perimeter of the borough, the longest distance she has ever run. Watkins believes that being a mother has helped prepare her for this next challenge. She explains that mothers “need to be able to shape-shift our way through life,” and “politics needs more people who can shape-shift.” This Ram not only talks the talk, she is running the run!