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The 2016 presidential election may have galvanized many women to run for office, but local issues have also served as catalysts.

In Salem, City Councilor Lisa Peterson's campaign last year to represent Ward 3 on the council was solidified after she started knocking on doors and talking to residents. 

"I was really surprised to find that a lot of people didn't even know who our ward councilor was," she said. 

She learned that many residents didn't know how to effectively air their concerns, besides calling the mayor's office.

"What was happening was things were just kind of cropping up in different parts of the ward and they would just happen and people didn't understand," Peterson said.

And she found that residents — both longtime citizens and newcomers — didn't know their neighbors as well as they would have liked. 

Peterson initially jumped into the City Council race after the 2016 elections. She felt she had to do something, noting that at the time she "didn't know what that meant." She paid attention to politics, but "didn't feel like an active participant."

It was what she heard on the campaign trail, she said, that gave her candidacy purpose — and motivation — as she mounted what turned out to be a successful challenge against an incumbent councilor. 

Since her election, Peterson has worked to help her own constituents better organize themselves, build connections and make their voices heard on city issues. She's set a goal of creating eight neighborhood associations in her ward, including one — the Greater Endicott Neighborhood Association — that's shared with Ward 2. Two others have organized and are planning meetings and events. 

New at-large Beverly Councilor Julie Flowers named a few different issues in the city that, in addition to the national political stage, compelled her to run for office. The list includes Beverly's full-day kindergarten fee. 

In most nearby communities, full-day kindergarten is free. But in Beverly, it costs more than $3,000. For years, parents have asked city leaders to lower the fee. This year, officials approved a 10 percent discount, dropping the fee to $3,600 from $4,000. But many say it's not enough. 

Flowers was also interested in monitoring the city's development boom. 

While the influx of housing projects mean more property tax dollars, Flowers said development needs to be "great and balanced."

Estelle Rand, who is in her third term representing Ward 2 on Beverly's City Council, said her focus during her campaign was the city's waste stream, but that quickly shifted once she assumed office.

"At the time there was a lot of discussion about the bathroom bill," she said, citing the issue over whether transgender people should be allowed to use facilities that coincide with the gender they identify with, regardless of what's listed on their birth certificate. "I mean someone brought to my attention that Beverly is a very inclusive community, but we're kind of at a time right now where it will really form our future to say we're inclusive, and then to work harder at being inclusive."

Having conversations around social issues, as well as creating a space for people to "feel safe and included" are key, Rand said. 

"I mean, they're kind of basic life skills that you learn in elementary school about, you know, making sure that the people that are being marginalized are cared for," she said. "The goal is to have people not feel marginalized. I think that priority came into focus for me."

It wasn't until after taking office that Rand realized she could have a role in these kinds of changes. When that came to the forefront, she said, "it is hard to ignore that reality."

Rand is still working on how the city addresses waste. For instance, she worked to draft Beverly's ordinance banning single-use plastic bags at retailers, which goes into effect Jan. 1. 

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at amacneill@salemnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill. 


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