Gwen Clayton Diakos knows exactly when she decided to she was going to run for elected office: May 17, 2011.
“That was the day [West New York] Mayor [Felix] Roque took office,” she said. “I was very inspired by his victory. He beat the political machine and set an example for others like me to follow.”
She knows Roque from the church they both attend, so she already had a sense of what he was about even before his election victory. But in the euphoria of the election, she thought it was time for others to stand up against the machine too.
She said she believes that Roque’s current legal troubles stem from his stand against party bosses, and hopes that he will prevail.
How Diakos came to run for U.S. Senate as an independent facing off against Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and his Republican challenger, Joseph Kyrillos, is a tale in itself.
“The Republicans approached me to run against Menendez in last June’s primary,” she said. “They liked my background. I had worked for the state department and I worked in the Middle East. I was dressed to the hilt and looked very classy.”
She was going to do it, but then ran into a problem many women in politics run into: political people from both parties began to make unwarranted advances at her. She said she was hit on so often that it made her angry.
Despite the assumptions that being a political figure might make her immune, it seemed that her aspirations only made her a bigger target.
“It was happening to me all the time,” she said. “And it didn’t matter which party; men just came right up to me. Women shouldn’t have to put up with that kind of thing just because they want to get involved in politics.”
And so with this as part of her platform, she decided that she would run as independent with the goal of making people aware of how women are buttonholed.
“I’m a single mom who raised my son alone since he was two, and I want to stand up the way Mayor Roque has stood up.” – Gwen Clayton Diakos
“I have to admire her,” said Michele Dupey, a former spokesperson for Hudson County who sued several prominent Hudson County officials in the 1990s unsuccessfully on similar issues. “I once thought I might run for public office. But I didn’t have the stomach for it. I’m glad someone is making this an issue.”
Born and raised in Bayville, N.J, Diakos attended Central Regional High School, then went on to DeVry University to study telecommunications and network management, after which she attended University of Southern Maine, studying linguistics and interpreting for American Sign Language.
“From there, I worked in the private sector and then went to work within the United States Government for the U.S. Army,” she said.
A pretty woman who worked side by side with soldiers, Diakos learned how to fend for herself. But she also learned how to build bridges between people, a valuable tool in politics, especially for someone she said who is fighting a political network of party bosses and political machines.
Modeling herself and her campaign after Roque’s, she said she hopes to highlight issues like women’s rights and political corruption even if she knows that she has an uphill battle against very powerful political machines behind the Republican and Democratic machines.
While she would like to have Roque’s support, she said she understands that he can’t give it to her.
“I wanted his son to work on my campaign,” she said, hoping that both Roque and his son will get out from under current legal issues she believes were orchestrated against them.
“It’s their calling card,” she said, referring to charges. “If you do anything against the political machine, you suddenly find yourself facing charges.”
Bur charges or not, Roque is a hero to her, she said, someone who has a wonderful family and has the respect of the people, and won’t be bullied.
“I’m a single mom who raised my son alone since he was two, and I want to stand up the way Mayor Roque has stood up.”
Although a registered Democrat who was willing to switch parties at one point in order to opposes the bosses who she believes went after Roque, Diakos said she no longer sees a difference between Democrats or Republicans.
“There is no difference between the two parties,” she said. “They are engaged in a self-serving dance in which one leads then the other, but all doing it for power, not the people.”
She said the whole experience has taught her a lot more about women and the political process.
“Even if I lose this, I’m going to keep on fighting,” she said. “Women should not be subjected to sexual harassment just because they run for political office. I’m a single mother, not a political play-toy. When they started this with me, they picked on the wrong person.”
She said she has strong faith in God, and something else that connects her to Roque.
“I understood what he meant when he said ‘God is great,’” she said.
A resident of the shore area of New Jersey, Diakos, with Swedish and Native American blood, has been traveling up and down the state like a female Paul Revere trying to raise alarm against the two parties.
“We have to take back our government from these two parties,” she said. “Roque did it, and so can the rest of us.”