Jennie Baird and Karen Giannuzzi, founders of March On Greenwich, a group that sprung to life in January following the Women’s March On Washington, have both won seats on the RTM following Tuesday’s municipal election.
Ms. Baird, who won a seat in District 5, noted there will be 12 women on the RTM in 2018 versus the current 4.
By her preliminary count, Giannuzzi said 114 women were elected to the RTM, which is roughly half of the 230-member body. She said women currently comprise about a third of the seats.
Ms. Giannuzzi was one of the top vote getters in district 11. By GFP’s count, that district had seven successful women who were new petition candidates among 27 candidates vying 24 seats.
“This was a success for civic engagement,” Giannuzzi said on Wednesday. “Through the March On efforts, we were able to tap into something that already existed and mobilize people to get out and vote.”
“We were able to show the world that Greenwich is a great place to live, that misogyny has no place here, and that regular people can move the needle when united around the things that connect us rather than the things that divide us,” she added.
Though there is no list of March On members per se, Giannuzzi said not all the new petition candidates were part of the grassroots group. She said that about 90% of the successful people who campaigned as individuals took advantage of the tools and information provided by March On.
Ms. Baird said, “Many of the new candidates have been working with the incumbents in their districts for months – learning the issues, attending meetings, getting to know the mechanics of the RTM, and even getting campaign tips.”
“We are so grateful to these longstanding RTM members both for their service to our community and also for their support for new voices and new energy on the RTM,” Baird continued. “We look forward to working together.”
A separate grassroots group, Indivisible Greenwich, also assisted candidates.
“While waiting for confirmation of the numbers and results of certain races, we believe that a very high percentage of all candidates endorsed by Indivisible Greenwich were elected,” said Joanna Swomley, founder of Indivisible Greenwich on Wednesday.
Swomley, who won a seat on the RTM herself, said, “While Indivisible Greenwich does not keep a list of members running for office, nearly all members who have revealed their affiliation publicly – most of whom were first time candidates – were successful.”
Swomley said that at least two of the first time candidates ran successfully town-wide office.
Giannuzzi said it is likely this the first time in history women have had this much representation on the RTM.
“There is really no way to have an official tally, but it also seems that many of the incumbents who supported our efforts were also elected,” Giannuzzi said.
By Greenwich Free Press’s count, in RTM District 8, where Chris von Keyserling ran for a 17th term despite being arrested for sexual assault last December, approximately nine men incumbents lost their seats to women petition candidates. In that district, there were 37 candidates for 26 spots.
There was some debate about the motivation of candidates targeting Mr. von Keyserling’s district.
In his League of Women Voters biography, Mr. von Keyserling stated one of his top issues was “(the) provision of public debate without the fanatical bullying and character assassination of pubic volunteers in the media.”
In an Oct 30 letter to the editor RTM District 7 incumbent Berrin Snyder in a letter to the editor wrote,”There are much more important things to concern ourselves with in Greenwich besides an instance of one man’s ill-conceived behavior. …Greenwich is turning the task of running a town into a fight to take down the Trump agenda. …We don’t need state and federal agendas influencing and regulating every local decision we need to make.”
Snyder wrote that she had always been treated with respect during her 2 year term on RTM in district 7. “March On Greenwich was guilty of reverse discrimination when they attack RTM members for being old and male,” she said.
When a local blogger instructed his readers not to vote for women petition candidates, calling them a “coven of shrieking banshees,” national media took note.
Articles on the large number of women running for RTM and the blogger’s instructions to boycott their candidacies appeared in online versions of the New York Times and Vogue.
The edict of the blogger, who said the women were trying to convert the RTM into “a forum for whackos to shriek their disapproval of conservatives,” seems to have backfired.
On Nov 2, The New York Times said the “infusion of political neophytes has set off a tempest, stoking fears of a bitter partisan debate on national issues infiltrating the business of running the town and provoking some incendiary reactions.”
The article also referred to the conservative blogger and his characterization of “angry women, all suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
About a week before the election, Vogue ran a feature on the high number of women running for RTM, the “sexist opposition from the Old Guard,” and a local blogger who dismissed them as unstable, “left-wing pussyhat” candidates.
The Vogue article went on to refer to “misogynistic rhetoric” from the blogger’s comments section.
Days before the Nov 7 election, Greenwich Schools superintendent issued a statement urging civility in public discourse. She also reminded families of the importance of discerning between real and fake news and the downside of circulating inaccurate posts on social media.
By November 6, so many anonymous commenters on Greenwich Free Press were posting nasty comments that the site de-activated the Disqus comment function on the website.
In the end, Greenwich is left with an RTM that is roughly half women.
Giannuzzi said the new candidates she and Baird have been in contact with are excited about their victories and look forward to working with all of the members of the RTM.