Women in politics isn’t something new.
The mid-term election cycle in 2018 was tabbed the “Year of the Woman” in politics. But the original “Year of the Woman” in politics actually was in 1992 when a large contingent of women was elected to the U.S. Congress.
The difference between 1992 and 2018-2019 is the numbers.
The Blue Wave in the 2018 mid-term elections produced 41 seats that Democrats flipped from red to blue. Out of those 41 seats, 23 were won by women. Among the 25 original Democratic candidates for president a record number of six women were running for president.
The national numbers have certainly trickled down to the local level in Cheshire with the Democratic slate of candidates (all office positions combined) reflecting the trend with a record number 12 Democratic women running for election in a single local election year.
The 12 Democratic women running for office in Cheshire are Town Council candidates Patti Flynn Harris (At-Large), Lynn Alvey Dawson (At-Large) and Fiona Pearson (District 1); Board of Education candidates Jami Ferguson, Anne Harrigan and Sam Rosenberg; Zoning Board of Appeals candidate Christine Norton; Planning and Zoning Alternate Casey Downes; Zoning Board of Appeals candidate Breina Schain; Board of Assessment Appeals candidates Laura DeCaprio and Kathleen Held; and Constable candidate Aleta Looker.
“I would say that Cheshire’s stellar field of Democratic women candidates reflects a national movement fueled by several grassroots organizations that address women’s and families’ issues,” Cheshire Democratic Town Committee Chairperson Judy Villa said. “Organizations such as Emerge, Emily’s List, MoveOn.org, Indivisible, and Planned Parenthood have encouraged women to run for a seat at the table.
“Locally, women have been the bedrock of municipal service for years in PTAs/PTOs, faith-based charities, and civic groups. Women have stepped up to volunteer for generations; now they recognize their skills of communication, collaboration, and strategic planning employed in their professions and in their volunteerism are more necessary than ever in the age of government stalemates and divisiveness. Our Democratic women candidates have careers in law, education, business, insurance, real estate, accounting, and social services--all backgrounds valuable to government positions.”
Villa urges Cheshire residents to visit the CDTC’s website www.cheshiredem.org to learn about the fabulous women who are anxious to make Cheshire a better community.
Below are 12 Democratic women running for public office in Cheshire with comments on what led them to decide to run for office and what they hope to accomplish.
ALETA LOOKER, CONSTABLE CANDIDATE: “Ninety-nine years have passed since the passage of the 19th amendment. Finally, in our local election, Democratic women candidates reflect the male-female population division. If only it were similar in state and federal elected bodies.”
CHRISTINE NORTON, ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS CANDIDATE: I am interested in economic development that enhances the town's character and strengths, preserving neighborhoods, and taking into account location and available space.
PATTI FLYNN-HARRIS, TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATE, AT-LARGE: “I’ve had the good fortune to serve the residents of the town on the Town Council for the past 6 years and previously, 14 years on the Planning & Zoning Commission. With the challenges the town faces from the changing state environment, I would like to continue using my knowledge and experience in helping to guide the town and ensure that it continues to be the great town that it is. As a taxpayer like everyone else, I’m concerned how we keep Cheshire affordable, so I’m very interested in the growth of the tax base and the economic development of the town. I’m also very aware of the need to balance the financial challenges from the state with the needs of the town, especially in the schools and the infrastructure of the town.”
FIONA PEARSON, TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATE, 1ST DISTRICT: “I first realized that I could and should run for office after November of 2016 and the Women's March in Washington, D.C. on January 20th of 2017. The energy on that day was palpable and life changing. For my daughters and for our collective future, I understood more deeply than ever before that we need more women at all levels of politics to move from the back lines to the front lines. I have been talking with many women who have recently entered into politics and I am hearing similar refrains. Change will only happen when we make it happen.
“I am running for office because I want to energize our town and realize our potential. We must improve collaboration and communication between the Town Council, Board of Education, our town's senior administrators, and local organizations. In strengthening relationships between town stakeholders, we will grow and thrive as community. Working together, we can create a vibrant future for all in Cheshire.”
CASEY DOWNES, PLANNING AND ZONING ALTERNATE CANDIDATE: “For me, running for a local public office has always been in the back of my mind. I finally decided this was the year to “step in” and put myself out there. My husband grew up here, and two of my adult children have chosen to live here as well, which gives me more incentive to give back to my community. I have always been interested in land usage so Planning & Zoning just seems liked a natural fit. I know there have been women on the Planning & Zoning Commission in the past. There just aren’t any now, I am certainly hoping to change that! I believe the Planning & Zoning Commission has the most important job to do. The future of our community rests upon the decisions that are made by the Commission. I currently have the time to dedicate myself to this endeavor and look forward to working for the town of Cheshire.”
LYNN ALVEY DAWSON, TOWN COUNCIL CANDIDATE, AT-LARGE: “Why so many women have stepped up? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was definitely motivated by the election of Donald Trump. His clearly demonstrated attitudes toward women as objects for his pleasure, the statements he made on the Access Hollywood tape and other evidence of his disregard for women disgusted me and made me fearful for our future. The fact that so many male representatives in Congress failed to call him out on this behavior suggests that this continues to be a pervasive attitude. How can we sit by and allow our representatives in Congress and the White House to dismiss and fail to take seriously half the population?
“In my career, I have been the subject of sexual harassment and discrimination. We can no longer sit back and hope or expect that men will wake up and pay attention to this problem. As women, we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to take a stance and fight for the equality that we deserve. Women must lead.”
Dawson said if she is elected, her goal is to involve more citizens in the process.
“On many levels our governments have become disconnected from the people they represent. If elected, I would represent every person in this town, regardless of whether they voted for me. My plan is to reach out to the residents and keep them informed of what is happening and get their input and opinions on the decisions that are being made. Ultimately, this is not about me, it is about the people in Cheshire.
“As a family law attorney, one of my primary functions is to listen to my clients and work to get the best outcome I can for them and their families. This often requires negotiation and compromise. My clients are frequently angry and emotional. Reaching an equitable solution often requires thinking outside of the box. I hope to bring my listening, creativity and negotiating skills to Town Hall for the betterment of this town.”
SAM ROSENBERG, BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE: “Throughout history, women have always found themselves on the back burners. They have been put into this “seen, not heard” box thus resulting in the need to ensure that they are viewed at similar to our male counterparts; starting with the suffrage movement and continuing. Now more than ever, I believe this is all part of keeping that spirit of equal rights at the forefront. Initially driven by the revulsion of Trump as well as any party that are helping to support him who don’t see women as equals, they marched with their pink hats!
“As the frustration builds at the lack of care about the needs of citizens, specifically women’s rights starting at the national level and trickling down to state, and local, women are finding it more necessary and have been empowered to take matters into their own hands. Most women in town have been in some way affected by what is happening at the national level, and want to help shift that balance of power, but they also believe that the more women in office will help to elevate issues and draw support from both sides of the political aisle. A large number of these women running are Democrats.”
Rosenberg brings a lot to the table that will make an impact for residents.
“I am an educator by profession and an avid volunteer who is involved in various associations that support the healthy growth and development of children and how they learn. Being an accomplished educator with years of classroom experience, a parent who has played an active role through the years, and a current administrator combined with my direct but respectful style, will be useful when collaborating with school community members in finding solutions to our district’s challenges. My established skill sets will continue to ensure we maintain the high-quality public education that makes us one of the best educational small towns in the country.”
ANNE HARRIGAN, BOARD OF EDUCATION: "I am running for re-election to the BOE because, while we have achieved much over the past four years towards our overarching goals of Complex Thinking and Social Emotional Learning, there is still unfinished business. Learning walks throughout our schools have helped teachers and administrators identify and share best practices for helping students at all grade levels achieve complex thinking to their greatest capacity. The students, themselves, have presented a myriad of programs and activities they are involved in to promote social and emotional well-being in our schools. However, there is still more work to do in order to preempt and decrease instances of bullying, inappropriate, and mean-spirited behavior in our schools. Our children are under immense societal pressures these days, and many need help to identify and alleviate anxieties and other serious mental health issues. With fewer services available in our communities, the social, emotional and mental health of our children falls more and more to public schools. I am committed to making sure Cheshire Public Schools is doing as much as possible to address the social emotional well-being of all children in our community."
JAMI FERGUSON, BOARD OF EDUCATION CANDIDATE: “Volunteer non-profit organizations are a vital part of our town. My children have been active in many organized activities including, Cheshire Youth Baseball, Cheshire Junior Football and Cheer, Cheshire Soccer Club and the Cheshire High School Marching Ram Band. The people who give of themselves to benefit all of our town’s children, in these organizations and others like them, form the bedrock of Cheshire and are a true blessing to our community. Our small business owners and parent support groups make substantial donations annually to subsidize athletics, recreation and enrichment activities. As our budget gets tighter, their burden becomes heavier. I'm concerned we are getting to a tipping point, where the sweat equity and donating some of your profits isn't worth the mill rate. I commit to do whatever I can as a Board member to remove obstacles and facilitate policy reforms to assist Cheshire’s giving community, they deserve it.”
BREINA SCHAIN, ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS CANDIDATE: ”Upon reflection, I believe that the pendulum has been steadily moving in the direction of women becoming more assertive, stepping forward in leadership roles, being involved in their communities and beyond, and advocating for theirs and others’ well-deserved rights. Part of this is due to their becoming more educated and going to top rated schools such as Yale University. Also, this woman’s movement has been a long struggle (violent at times) going back in time, to gaining the right to vote. It should be noted that great women are documented in the Bible and we can learn from reading about this in history. However, there are eminent women in all fields who are role models, including in politics, such as Golda Meir (Prime Minister of Israel) and other such women who led their countries as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Theresa May of Great Britain and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan (the first “Muslim” prime minister).
"I also want to mention other courageous women who have great conviction such as Ellen DeGeneres, who openly helped others to not be ashamed of their sexuality. Other role models are, of course, Hillary Clinton, who most assuredly relayed aspiration and confidence to women to enter politics and even run for President. Women have become more empowered by the “Me Too” movement and now feel more comfortable discussing sexual assault after hearing similar accounts of others, such as in the sports (athletic field) and even from popular actresses, etc. In fact, there are two very brave women, whom I both admire. One, involving the Supreme Court, is Dr. Blaisey Ford (uncannily similar to Anita Hill) who exposed the “predator”, Brett Kavanaugh on a public platform and the other is the youth, Greta Thurberg, who took a firm and public stand for crucially needed climate control. In summary, our society has gradually evolved and generally, people currently respect all genders for their potential as human beings. Furthermore, just as more women are more gainfully employed then in the past, they are simultaneously assuming their justly qualified leadership positions, including running for office here in Cheshire.
"I am the type of person who usually is not content to just sit back and observe in the organizations where I choose to spend my time. I enjoy stepping forward and volunteering to take leadership positions. For instance, even as a young adult after graduating college, I started and ran two successful organizations, one being a bible study group and another was a bowling league. My educational background includes a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and minor in Music from SCSU. My Master’s degree is in Community Counseling with a thesis written on Animal-Assisted Therapy. I’ve been on the Board of Directors of three organizations including the Alumni Association at WCSU, Quinnipiac River Watershed Association and Threshholds (a course helping the inmates in prison to make better decisions in their lives). At Threshholds, I originated the idea and helped to write a manual for the inmates to keep about the course. My past jobs include working for the Social Security Administration, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Better Business Bureau as a Mediator, and CT Consumer Protection as a Product Safety Inspector. Other state positions were at the CT Labor Department and Social Services. I have now retired after having worked at the Department of Correction in the Counseling Departments at four prisons in Connecticut.
"More currently, since I’ve lived in Cheshire for about twelve years, I’ve volunteered with my certified therapy dog, Trevor, at the library, and grammar school for reading programs. We worked to alleviate stress in three universities at exam times, and at nursing homes to work with patients and their families. As a local volunteer, I’ve worked for the Historical Society, Chamber of Commerce, Friends of the Library, and in the medical response team at Chesprocott Health Safety District. For instance, recently, I’ve met with leaders in the community and presented them with a written document detailing a program for high school students to become more acquainted and involved in town government. This was met with a positive reaction.
"My political career began when I was appointed to the Historic District Commission and thereafter, when I was elected to my present position on the Zoning Board of Appeals. I find that I can apply my State and Federal knowledge of regulations and skills to help achieve resolutions. Furthermore, it is fulfilling for me to be in a position to help others.
In summary, I feel humbled, grateful and personally satisfied for an opportunity to work in town government, meet my neighbors and be in a position to be of assistance. Hopefully, others can become similarly motivated to become involved in our community as it is a wonderful, enriching experience.”
LAURA DECAPRIO, BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS CANDIDATE, AND KATHLEEN HELD, BOARD OF ASSESSMENT APPEALS CANDIDATE, could not be reached for this story.
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter for the New Haven Register for 34 years.