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This is me and my three year old, Abigail, on the day I was sworn in as mayor. On January 1, with my husband, Abigail, and my three month old on my hip, I took my oath of office from my first boss in New Jersey politics, Congressman Rush Holt.

abby on diasFor the most part, people have been wonderfully supportive, some even stunned, that a woman can have a (very) young family, a full time job, and be a part-time mayor. But you know who isn’t surprised by that fact? My three year old. She tells people she’s also mayor (I did refer to her as such while she insisted on holding my hand through my speech so that’s my fault). She draws pictures for the people I marry and is utterly unfazed when people tell her that it’s impressive that Mommy is a Mayor.

And that’s exactly why I ran three years ago when Abigail (who is now my oldest) was three months old and why I accepted the nominations of my fellow council members to be Mayor. Little girls shouldn’t think that a mom being an elected official is amazing — plenty of young elected men have young families and it doesn’t phase anyone.

bridget swearing inWhen I had the opportunity to run for these offices, I did take into consideration the toll it would take on my family. Each time I held people off until I actually gave birth (I’m such a procrastinator) and each time I chose to jump in, partly because I knew I had an amazing partner and back up system in my husband and partly because I didn’t know how I’d explain it to my girls if I didn’t step up to the plate when I had the opportunity.

Some people asked if I had any blow back from allowing my daughter to sit with me on the dais while we conducted business, and the answer: not at all. In fact, the majority of people who came up to me and complimented me — mostly middle-aged white men — and it allows me to talk about how important it is to find more ways to include all our residents in the Township. People should feel that everyone is welcome in town hall, on that dais, in our offices and in our town.

All the warm and fuzzy aside, I won’t say it’s not hard. I arrange weddings around gymnastics class. I spend evenings away when I’d rather play dress up. And long meetings might necessitate a break to use my breast pump, but we all get through it. Meanwhile, my daughters get to meet lots of interesting people, they get to see how important it is to have a voice in the community, and they get to see that Mommies can be Mayors.

But some days even my current role doesn’t allow me to use my voice on some of the areas I care most about: encouraging community involvement, pushing to make sure more woman are represented at all levels of government and helping new mothers find ways to stay as active as they want in their careers and making breastfeeding and pumping a seamless part of professional woman’s days. I hope this column might give voice to some of those things.

 

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Cathleen Lewis
Cathleen, the Mayor of Lawrence Township & a full-time Public Affairs professional, counts her best job as being Mommy to Abigail (3 years) and Bridget (6 months ). A New Yorker originally, but Boston raised, Cathleen enjoys the challenge of raising the girls in a mixed household with her Yankee-fan husband Paul. She hopes to make up for the confusion by encouraging the family’s love of Rutgers football. She dreams of sharing her love of beaches, margaritas, music and adventure but is happy to squeeze in a family walk with the dog and a back yard BBQ these days. Formerly an avid reader and writer before work, life and children; Cathleen hopes she hasn’t lost her ability to capture thoughts through the written word but often can’t remember where the grocery list is.

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