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Elected Women Urge Girls to Action

Thu, 11/21/2019 - 13:03

‘We want you to lead,’ they tell teens, but you’ll need to ‘thicken your skin’

Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni, who has also been elected as a county family court judge, shared heartfelt advice with high school girls at the Water Mill Community House last Thursday.
Christine Sampson

Some of the South Fork’s most prominent elected officials, a group of nine women who hold public office here, came together last Thursday for a bipartisan call to action. Their goal was to inspire a demographic that may not yet identify with a particular party line — high school girls — to someday run for office.

“We want you to lead,” said East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez.

“We all like to work together and support each other,” said Sundy Schermeyer, Southampton’s town clerk since 2006. “It’s very important that women support other women, no matter which parties you are from.”

Ms. Schermeyer was joined by Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, Sag Harbor Village Mayor Kathleen Mulcahy, Sagaponack Village Deputy Mayor Lee Foster, two Southampton Town justices, Andrea Schiavoni and Deborah E. Kooperstein, and a few others to tell a group of about 50 girls from nearby schools that they are the future of government in their communities. The event, called Running and Winning, was hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons at the Water Mill Community House.

The lessons, culled from the women’s decades of experience in office, were both practical and motivational.

Judge Kooperstein shared advice that she had learned firsthand. “Losing isn’t the end of it,” she said about her loss in 1991 in the race for a seat on the bench in Southampton Town. She ran again two years later and won, becoming the first woman in Southampton to hold the role of town justice, and has been re-elected many times.

“Don’t look for somebody to tell you it’s okay” to run for office, Judge Kooperstein said. “I did so because I thought that it was important to do. . . . You have to decide for yourself what you want to do.”

Ms. Schermeyer advised the girls to “thicken your skin. People will say all sorts of things when you’re running. I’ve learned I have to keep it in context and know I’m putting my best foot forward and doing the right thing.”

Ms. Foster, who was first elected to the Sagaponack Village Board in 2005, said women bring “a vitality of democratic principles” to public office. “It’s lively, inspirational, and I would encourage you to say ‘yes’ ” to becoming involved in politics, she said.

Lucia Ibrahim heard the messages loud and clear. The East Hampton High School student, who has also attended East Hampton Town Board meetings, said she is passionate about environmental issues and improving the community, and that she hopes to run for public office someday.

“I loved every single elected official’s message,” Lucia said. “The one that really stuck with me was Judge Schiavoni’s. Judge Schiavoni was super inspirational and helped [us] create a poster that could be used in a campaign. She told us that we could accomplish anything and to never listen to other people’s negativity to your aspirations.”

“It was an incredible experience — very strong and powerful women speaking,” said Olivia Cassone, a Bridgehampton High School senior.

The League of Women Voters is known for its voter registration efforts across the region, and last Thursday was no different. Anne Marshall, who co-chairs the league’s voter services committee, taught the girls how to fill out voter registration forms.

“Even though it’s a pretty straightforward form, there are some things to watch out for,” Ms. Marshall said by way of introduction. She reminded the young women to print their names clearly, using blue or black ink only, and to use the correct format for their birth dates — two digits for the month, two for the date, and four for the year they were born.

Pay attention to the box that says “county,” Ms. Marshall said. “People think it says ‘country.’ That’s what happens a lot on voter registration forms.”

Led by the elected officials, the students then worked in groups to plan voter registration drives at their respective high schools. Recent voting reforms in New York State now allow students to preregister to vote when they are 16 or 17 years old. Lucia had the idea to spend 10 minutes with the junior and senior history classes at East Hampton starting in January — with the permission of Adam Fine, the school principal, of course — to talk about voter registration and offer assistance in filling out forms.

Jaden Campbell, a Bridgehampton High School senior, said the Running and Winning event “was very informational. Bringing in the elected officials was very inspiring. The event inspired me to become active in inspiring my peers to vote and to make their opinions heard.”

“I was going to vote from the start, but this made me feel my vote is even more important,” Jaden’s classmate Alanah Johnson added.

It’s “amazing” that students are able to preregister to vote,” Lucia said. “We are the future voices and we need to be heard and that is through preregistering and then voting as soon as we turn 18.”

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