Like her Democratic rivals, Hader is a first-time candidate for elected office. But she has worked for years in the federal government, running public-health programs.

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When Shannon Hader took a job as director of Washington, D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Administration in 2007, the nation’s capital faced a public-health crisis.

HIV infection rates had jumped to epidemic levels, and the municipal agency charged with responding was panned as ineffective and hamstrung by leadership turnover.

By the time she left about three years later, Hader had widely been credited with turning the picture around, with HIV testing up fivefold and death rates reduced. The city’s HIV agency became viewed as a national model, according to media reports.

Editor’s note

This is the third in a series of stories about the leading candidates for Congress in the 8th District.

The D.C. story is part of a government-service track record that Hader and supporters say sets her apart in the race for retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s seat in the 8th Congressional District.

Hader is competing in the Aug. 7 “top two” primary, hoping to outpoll Democratic rivals, pediatrician Kim Schrier and attorney Jason Rittereiser, and face presumptive Republican standard-bearer Dino Rossi in November’s general election.

Like her Democratic rivals, Hader, 50, is a first-time candidate for elected office. But she has worked for years in the federal government, from running U.S. AIDS response efforts in Zimbabwe to most recently managing the U.S. global response to the disease.

“That has turned me into a true believer that government can, and should, work for the people,” said Hader, a doctor by training.

In her last position, Hader led the Division of Global HIV & Tuberculosis at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. There, she managed an annual budget of more than $2 billion and 2,000 people working in 45 countries.

Hader left that job at the end of last year and moved back to her hometown of Auburn to run for Congress. While a comparatively late entrant into the race, she has stacked up a streak of endorsements from Democratic legislative district groups, elected officials and others.

“The fact I bring a concrete proven track record of deliverables seems to resonate a lot,” Hader said, noting she’s worked in the federal government under presidents of both major parties.

In a primary that had remained mostly polite among Democrats, Hader has stirred controversy with a late round of negative mailers against Schrier, accusing the Issaquah pediatrician of reckless opposition to mandatory vaccination.

At a campaign forum this week, Schrier denounced the mailers as Washington, D.C.-style divisive politics and a mischaracterization of her pro-vaccine position.

“This is a big, fat, lame lie,” she said, holding up one of Hader’s mailers.

The mailers cite an answer Schrier gave during a flash round of questions at a campaign forum in March, when she held up a red placard indicating she disagreed with the government requiring children to be vaccinated for preventable diseases.

The mailers do not mention Schrier’s subsequent statements that she misunderstood the forum question and that she supports mandatory vaccination policies — and as a pediatrician has personally vaccinated thousands of children.

Hader’s campaign has not backed off, saying Schrier’s statements on the subject have shifted since March.

The daughter of a Boeing worker and a dance and art instructor, Hader grew up in Auburn and graduated from Stanford University, the first in her family to obtain a four-year college degree.

She earned a medical degree from Columbia University and completed a medical residency at Duke University Medical Center and an infectious-disease fellowship at Emory University.

Hader joined the U.S. Public Health Service as an epidemic intelligence service officer, starting her career in public health in 1999.

She rose in the field, leading the CDC’s mission in Zimbabwe from 2003 to 2006, a chaotic time when the nation faced an AIDS epidemic while dealing with poverty and instability under then-President Robert Mugabe.

Hader has made health care an important issue in her campaign. She favors allowing states to adopt single-payer systems and supports lowering the Medicare eligibility age.

Hader said she was motivated to run for office in part because of what she saw working under the Trump administration over the past year. Hader says she began to detect an “insidious undermining” of science and programs.

Some who have worked with her praise Hader for showing a commendable mix of skills.

“Government work is tough. It requires a lot of team building and communications skills, negotiation skills, patience, but also having your own vision for how you think things ought to go. Shannon was strong in all those departments,” said Tom Kenyon, former director of the CDC’s Center for Global Health.

She detoured from federal government service to take the Washington, D.C., job in 2007, despite the questionable reputation of that city’s health bureaucracy.

Tori Fernandez Whitney, who worked as director of D.C.’s substance-abuse agency, said the city at the time was cycling through AIDS directors every year or so, amid an HIV/AIDS crisis with infection rates comparable to those of some African nations.

Hader turned around management of the agency, while connecting with community leaders. The agency collected data, upped testing, distributed condoms, and started the first city-funded needle exchange.

“But for Shanon Hader we would not have been able to get a grip on the epidemic and that’s just the bottom line,” Fernandez Whitney said.

When Hader resigned, media reports portrayed her exit as a blow to the administration of then-D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Since announcing her entry into the 8th Congressional District race, Hader has loaned $420,000 to her own campaign, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Hader could face questions about her lengthy absence from the 8th District. She was registered to vote in King County from 1988 until 2006, when she took the D.C. job. She registered in the county again in October.

Hader said the U.S. public-health service — a uniformed branch like the military — required her to be away, but that she always considered Auburn home.

“It is true that it is hard to be the vagabond, the nomad, following the mission around the world,” Hader said. But she said the experience prepared her to serve if elected to Congress.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.