Campaigning As A Woman: How A Newly Elected Mass. Councilor Recalibrated Her Persona For Voters
By: Stephanie Leydon
When Stephanie Martins lost her first bid for a seat on Everett’s City Council two years ago, it was less the end of one campaign and more the beginning of her next one.
“My secret is, I never went away,” said Martins, 31. “I continued to be a part of the community. I continued to be involved in all the things I was passionate about.”
Martins, who was born in Brazil, was sworn into the Everett City Council this week — part of a small wave of diversity on the previously all-white 11-member board. Instead of one woman, it now has three — and also includes members who are black and Asian.
But Martins said her victory represents not so much the power of Everett’s fast-changing demographics as it does her success in connecting with the city’s most reliable voters — longtime residents who are largely older and white, she said.
“The traditional core of Everett people, especially the elderly people, continue to decide and drive elections still,” she said. “They voted for new, they voted for women, they voted for diverse representation and that was a huge surprise.”
Getting those votes, she said, also required a campaign recalibration: she toned down her public persona.
Martins said she thinks voters are more critical of women.
“They have a lot of choice words for women in the way you behave, the way you present your things, the way they react to the things you write. There are so many more categories for women — so many more boxes to fill. And it’s tiring,” she said.
So, what’s the way to go about campaigning as a woman?
“Be nice,” she said.
“There’s definitely a huge sensitivity, still, to women who want to speak up and be strong leaders,” she added, “so there’s a definitely a way to go about it when you’re a woman, unfortunately, because of the system.”
Martin’s rise in Everett politics coincides with an historic moment of gender parity in Boston. Eight women were sworn in last week to the 13-member Boston City Council — the first time women have made up the Council’s majority.
In Massachusetts, it’s also an anomaly. More than three years after President Donald Trump’s election galvanized a record number of women to get involved in politics, the vast majority of elected posts in towns and cities across Massachusetts are still held by men.
A WGBH News report from March 2019 found that of the almost 1,200 town select board members statewide, a little over 300 are women. The report also found that in cities, only 176 of 603 council seats are held by women.
“I feel like we’re making progress,” said Dawne Shand, who chairs the North Shore region for the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus. “It is more incremental than I had hoped.”
Newburyport, which has a female mayor, has added three female city councilors since 2016. Voters in neighboring Amesbury elected a female mayor last November, and Shand said the number of female city councilors in Beverly now stands at four.
“We’re really trying to build a larger network of expertise — funding networks, volunteer networks,” she said.
Even in local races, fundraising is important. Pam Berman, president of the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, said it’s an area where women tend to trail men. Another major challenge is incumbency.
“Male incumbents in a lot of these towns have been there for a very long time,” Berman said. “And when they get done, their next-in-line is another man, not a woman.”
To get more women in the pipeline for municipal office, her group is encouraging women to join local boards and commissions so they can gain experience and form relationships that will help them launch a successful campaign.
But Stephanie Martins, the newly-elected Everett City Councilor, suggests a bolder path.
“It feels like we women ask ourselves too many questions, and I don’t see the guys doing that,” she said. “We need to stop and understand that we’re ready and just get out there and run.”