Mommy Mayor: A Look to the New Year 2016

On January 1, I will begin my second term on Lawrence Township Council. As is tradition in Lawrence Township, the council selected a new mayor based on whomever is next in the rotation. We are fortunate to live in New Jersey where the common line is “once a mayor, always a mayor.” This is true of mommy mayors, retired mayors, mayors turned governor, assemblyman or senator. So, I will continue to write in this space because the challenges remain the same — how do we make government more accessible? how do we encourage more young woman and girls to see themselves as mayors, governors and presidents?

In my two years as mayor of Lawrence Township, I was able to work on a number of projects that I cared deeply about: we threw open the doors of town hall for a first-ever Open House, we began a curbside food waste program, I worked hard to spread the message about the great things this town was doing every opportunity I got. From the 1-million square feet of business development, to the 5 medals we received as part of the First Ladies Let’s Move program, Lawrence is moving forward. I was honored to share in a prayer service at the Islamic Center and to discuss what we can do together to move past stereotypes, foster understanding and ensure that all our residents feel  safe and respected within our community.

But, in my two years, nothing made me prouder than the looks on the faces of young girls and women when I introduced myself as mayor. When I took my oath of office with a toddler at my feet and a baby on my hip, I knew that I was in the minority. I am fortunate to know some of the women who have walked this path before me, but we are too often far and few between. But I did not realize the meaning it would have to others around me until I was out in the community.

To the young girls who met me and whose eyes grew wide to see a young female mayor, I hope that for some, it got them dreaming of their own election or made them realize that their dreams, whatever they may be, were not impossible.

To my peers, the young mothers who often started with “how do you do it,” and ended with a thank you for tackling the issues that actually impact young families in this town, I was glad to give them a voice. I believe that if we make this town a better place for people to build a family then we make it a better place for everyone, our businesses grow, our residents want to stay and our community is strong. It is for those families that I work so hard to make sure town hall is accessible, that we spread the word about all the programs that are out there that they can participate in.

But the most meaningful, by far, was when I would introduce myself to a senior woman in town, on more than one occasion her eyes would get wide, a big smile would appear and she would tell me how great it was to see a young woman as mayor and then she would turn to her husband or friend and proudly introduce me. To those women, I was something they never thought they would see – a young woman taking on a leadership role in elected office, it is that fulfillment of a dream that I find most humbling.

In two years I’ve tried to do a lot, but there is more to be done. There is always more to be done. But I’m not one to let titles dictate action so, I hope you’ll continue to join me in this space as I write about the big issues that keep women from entering the fray, the obstacles we face as we juggle work, kids and life and silly things that keep me sane.

I hope all of you have a Happy New Year.

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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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