By Lisa Kashinsky [email protected] –
City voters on Tuesday elected a nine-member board that includes five women, four members age 30 or younger and only three incumbents. They’re replacing a council of six men and three women, with no one below the age of 40.
Residents have known for months that the council – which is elected every two years – was due for a shake-up. Five current councilors were term-limited out of running for re-election this fall, and a sixth, James Jajuga, is now mayor-elect as the result of an uncontested race.
The field of candidates for the nine-member council at its peak included 15 people across four races: 10 men and five women. On Election Day, voters cast ballots for all five women to make it onto the council, giving the governing body a female majority for the first time in recent memory.
Richard Padova, a professor in the Global Studies Department at Northern Essex Community College who follows local politics, said the results in Methuen are a microcosm of a trend happening across the United States.
“With women feeling more and more empowered, more and more of them are running for office and more and more are winning and holding office now,” Padova said.
While it’s stereotypically been a “man’s world” for centuries, “it’s a man and a woman’s world now,” he continued.
For decades now, women have been shedding their stereotypical housewife roles for careers in everything from law enforcement to high-tech corporations to politics, working their way up the ladders in their respective fields. It’s a movement that’s transitioned from more women going to college and entering the workforce, to fighting for equal pay and taking on more and more roles traditionally seen as male. And the fight for full equality continues today.
Women have made great gains in the political realm in recent years – to the point where it’s no longer uncommon to see women running for political offices from Congress to local mayor’s offices. A third of the U.S. Supreme Court is women, one out of every five members of Congress are women, and a major political party selected a woman as its candidate for president last year, Padova said.
It’s a trend that’s been developing in the Merrimack Valley and around Massachusetts for years, Padova said, with more and more women making their way onto local boards. Voters in Boston just elected six women to their City Council, Kim Driscoll was returned for her fourth term as mayor of Salem, Mass., and women like Yvonne Spicer and Ruthanne Fuller were elected mayors of Framingham and Newton, respectively, on Tuesday.
In Methuen – which has seen a female mayor before in Sharon Pollard – there have typically been three to four female city councilors at any given time in the past eight or so years. The new council will tip that majority, with incumbent Councilors Jennifer Kannan and Lynn Vidler, newcomers Jessica Finocchiaro and Eunice Zeigler, and Joyce Campagnone, who returns to the council after a stint on the School Committee. Incumbent George Kazanjian and newcomers Ryan Hamilton, Steve Saba and James McCarty round out the council.
“I think women over the years looking for greater rights and equal rights (has resulted in) the trend now for more and more women running for office and winning,” Padova said. “That’s one of the results of the women’s rights movement.”
The new City Council will also be significantly younger. Newcomers as young as 20-year-old Hamilton have brought the average age of the council down 10 years, from roughly 54 years old to approximately 44. Hamilton, a UMass Lowell student and former Methuen High School class president, said he believes he’s the youngest person ever elected to the council.
He’s joined in the 30-and-under club by McCarty, 25; Zeigler, 29; and Finocchiaro, 30, according to candidate profiles submitted to The Eagle-Tribune prior to the election.
Padova says the “new blood” could be beneficial to the council.
“I think because now they’re younger, they’re perhaps more likely to think outside of the box and be willing to try new ideas to solve the issues of the day,” he said.
McCarty said he believes he was elected in part because voters are “happy to see a newcomer who doesn’t yet have an agenda,” and who is “young and accessible.”
While the younger, newer councilors could face a bit of a learning curve in their first term, Padova said that in the long run they could inspire other young adults to get involved in local politics, especially at a time when populations in the Merrimack Valley and Massachusetts are generally aging.
“Not only will they inspire perhaps the younger generation in Methuen to become more involved in community and civic affairs, it could have a spillover effect beyond the boundaries of Methuen,” Padova said.
Follow Lisa Kashinsky on Twitter @lisakash23.