Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Amy Unger
Susana Suarez has been fascinated by politics since she was very young. She would spend her mornings reading the paper at her family’s kitchen table in Mexico City, exchanging sections with her father. Depending on the issue, she would follow up with a letter to the current sitting President of the United States.
Born and raised in Mexico City, Susana and her family moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, just outside of Cleveland, when she was 15. She graduated from Ohio State University where she became a member of the OSU Republicans and served as the group’s president during her senior year. She also worked in the Ohio statehouse as a constituent aide to a state senator. To cap off her final year at Ohio State, Ronald Reagan visited campus on a campaign stop for George H.W. Bush. During that visit, she met Republican strategist Lee Atwater, who hired her on the spot to work with the Republican National Committee.
“At a young age, I was convinced I could make our society better and our community better,” she says.
Working in Washington D.C. for the RNC, Suarez established many professional relationships and was integral in the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). When the sitting president lost the 1992 election to Bill Clinton, Susana went to work for NAFTA coalitions, the Hispanic International Trade Center and USA NAFTA.
For the next eight years she worked with the Anheuser-Busch Corporation, moving from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, then to New York City, and then to St. Louis. When George W. Bush began his presidential campaign, Susana’s phone began to ring. Her friend and Bush attorney Albert Gonzalez asked her to join their efforts.
“I had gotten the bug,” Suarez says.
After the election was over, she served as the Assistant Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“I went from selling beer to recovery from 9/11,” Susana says. “The learning curve was steep.”
What Susana experienced during that time solidified her commitment to service.
“What I witnessed with the first responders of 9/11 and their commitment to stabilize ‘the pit,’ as they called it, was nothing short of the best example of human nature,” she says.
Susana was at “the pit” the day after the towers fell and she was there the day the last body was lifted out.
“It was a very traumatic time,” she recalls. “The amazing outpouring of support that came out of that tragedy is a testament to the American people.”
After 9/11, the climate for American workers around the globe changed. One of the agencies looking to re-evaluate the safety of those serving in other countries was the Peace Corps. Again, Suarez’s cultural heritage was an asset, as Mexico had never allowed Peace Corp volunteers into the country for a number of reasons, including a suspicion regarding the mission of the volunteers. Some even believed volunteers were CIA operatives. Overcoming the element of distrust, Susana negotiated the entry of the Peace Corp into Mexico.
“It is amazing the transformation that occurs where willpower and possibility exist,” she says. “Given these two elements, amazing things can happen.”
Susana’s next position was with a Mexican-owned cement the aggregate company CEMEX, for which she helped with the business relationships within the communities where it operated. She says she enjoyed her position a great deal. While working with Cemex, Suarez met her husband, Juan “Kiko” Suarez. As they were working in different countries, they decided to leave the company.
Juan, who is originally from Spain, is politically a Democrat-leaning independent. Considering Suarez’s political history, election years (and World Cup matches) result in much debate at their home.
“We have common ground and some differences,” says Kiko, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Innovation for the Lumina Foundation. “And we only resolve it over a bottle of good Spanish Rioja.”
Susana and Kiko had just welcomed their first child shortly before settling in Zionsville.
“At the time I was just getting integrated within the community,” Susana says. “I was asked to run for town council.”
Though she had never run for office, she decided to seize the opportunity two years later, although she was six months pregnant with her second child. She and Jeff Papa decided to work together.
“I first met Susana in 2011, when we were both running for at-large seats on the Zionsville Town Council,” says Papa, Chief of Staff/Chief Legal Counsel for the Indiana Senate and a Zionsville Town Council Member. “We hit it off immediately and decided that it made no sense to each fund an entire campaign, so we ran as a team and split the costs, even putting our names together on signs and handouts, rather than producing two of everything. Susana has a unique ability to assess new situations, new problems and new people and work toward practical solutions. When she was still fairly new to Indiana, and we would wind up at a state event, I would try to introduce her to people, but she already, somehow, knew everyone. Susana has done great work for the town, and on the Commission for Higher Education.”
“We are doing the best for our community,” Susana says. “We have a high level of respect for public discourse, even after contentious elections.
Susana was sworn in with her babies in tow and has been dragging them to meetings ever since. She is the first female President of the Zionsville Town Council.
Appointed to the Commission for Higher Education by Governor Daniels, Susana serves as an at-large member and as the vice chairwoman, alongside Commissioner Teresa Lubbers. Susana also serves on the Board of Christel House Academy and the Latino Expo, Zionsville Safety Board Chairwoman and vice president of the Zionsville Police Commission. If that weren’t enough, she also volunteers as room parent for her daughters’ classrooms.
Susana served as a member of Governor-elect Eric Holcomb’s transition team and has been appointed to Executive Director of Strategic Communications for Governor-elect Holcomb. Steve Braun, on the Commission of Workforce Development, said he was excited to hear of the appointment.
“Susana’s commitment and experience to public service at the national, state and local level, combined with her business background, makes her uniquely qualified to identify the men and women that should lead the state as part of the Governor-elect’s cabinet and administration,” Braun says. “We are in good hands.”
In 2009, Susana started Media Moon Communications, a multi-cultural and bilingual marketing and communications company. Utilizing her strengths, Susana assisted in the process of spinning out Allegion from Ingersoll Rand, and had the pleasure of ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange when Allegion went public.
“The talent, the culture, the amazing people who are here; I wouldn’t trade anywhere for this place,” she says. “There is nothing like Indiana, I wouldn’t raise my kids any where else. Every single day I live in awe. Many people take it for granted, but those of us who relocated here, it’s the people that make Indiana beautiful.”