Making history: Four women with seats on five-member town board talk about their hopes and plans

History was made when the Pelham Town Board held its organizational meeting earlier this month. For of the first time, four of the five seats at the council table were occupied by women. Republican Supervisor Dan McLaughlin, who is also a member of the five-member board, is the only man. Councilwomen Rae Szymanski, Kristen Burke, Maura Curtin and Kara McLoughlin talked to the Pelham Examiner about what it means to make history and their plans for the government body that runs recreation, the library, the town court, EMS services and senior programs in town.

Rae Szymanski

“It is very interesting because I have been on the board for 20 years, and when I first came on, there was one other female, but she soon left,” said Szymanski, a Republican who was reelected in November. She has been on the board the longest of the four women. “Then for the other 19 years, it’s been me as the only female on the board. But I will give kudos to the males who were on the board, because I never felt dismissed because I was a woman. It’s going be pretty different with four women on the board now.”

“Over the past two years being on the board with the other females on the board has been amazing,” she said. “Each woman on the board brings a different skill set to the board, so I am excited.”

“I’d like to make sure the emergency services of the town are sewed up and as tied up as possible, which was one of my first initiatives twenty years ago,” said Szymanski. “I think the women-majority board affects the Town of Pelham positively, especially since the council shows young women that you can have a career, have a family and you can still make a difference in your community. Women often have a different approach to problems than men, bringing some other external experiences to the table that help them make the best decision possible.”

Kristen Burke

The election also swung the board to Democratic control by a 3-2 margin in what is also probably a historical first.

“On one hand, as a Democrat, I would love to see diversity on the board—by gender and different races and ethnicities,” said Burke, who was elected in 2019. “I am, however,  thrilled that all four town council members are women. Although women have made great strides, especially in the 2020 election, including with the help of nonprofits such as Vote Mama to support women in public office, women are still grossly underrepresented in elected office in this country. I think it says a tremendous amount about this great town.” 

Burke said she wants to continue to increase transparency and improve the communication between the town and its citizens, pointing to the town government’s new website. Some of her other goals include improving the Pelham Recreation Department and having scholarships for kids in need who can’t afford some of the programs. She also plans to seek more engaging and entertaining activities and events for the seniors so that they can benefit from all the town of Pelham has to offer. 

Maura Curtin

Curtin said, “According to research from the Center for American Women in Politics, women hold fewer than one third of seats in municipal governments nationwide, comparable to their presence in state and federal offices. Considering how underrepresented women are in local government, I am honored to be a member of a women majority council for the first time in Pelham’s town history.”

“I think women bring new perspectives and ideas to address the needs of residents,” said Curtin, a Democrat elected in 2019. “For example, when I learned that during the 2020-21 school year that Hutchinson did not re-institute the before and after (school) childcare program, but other elementary schools in town did, I presented a proposal to the town board with the idea of having the recreation department oversee the aftercare programs to ensure continuity of services and above that equal access. I then worked with the school district to survey parents on their childcare needs and the end result was the Pelham Children Center now offers care at Hutchinson again.”

Kara McLoughlin

Curtin pointed to the importance of the Pelham Public Library and the resources it provides for the residents of Pelham. She said she wants to see programs geared towards middle schoolers that help them to be better connected with the library.

“I’ve worked alongside the current members of the town council for two years, and I know them to be dedicated citizens who volunteer their time to create a better community,” Curtin said.

McLoughlin, who was elected to the council as a Democrat in November, said, “I am happy that more women are getting involved in politics and running for office. We represent more than 50% of the U.S. population but a very small majority of elected officials, so it’s nice to see that women in Pelham are stepping up… From a big picture, I want to listen to people who moved here recently specifically and listen to different perspectives and needs.”