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Historic Town Board will meet in January: Three women elected to serve together

With the November election results finally settled, it will be an historic moment for Shelter Island when the new Town Board meets for the first time in January.

For the first time in the Island’s history, three women will serve on the Board at the same time, giving them a majority of three to two over men on the Board.

The third slot for a woman was secured when Meg Larsen was declared the winner for the four-year term to replace the retiring Albert Dickson. The race was decided in Ms. Larsen’s favor more than a month after Election Day when a hand count of in-person ballots and absentees showed her defeating Democratic rival Brett Surerus by a tally of 753 to 748.

Margaret Ann (Meg) Larsen (Credit: Courtesy photo)

A new State law required a recount of the election. The law, which went into effect in January, triggers a recount “where the margin of victory is 20 votes or less; or where the margin of victory is 0.5% or less …”

This wasn’t the closest election, by a long shot, in Island history. There have been closer ones, according to Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar, who recalled her mother, Helen D. Smith, losing an election for Town Clerk by a single vote.

The other women who will serve with Ms. Larsen and Democratic incumbents Supervisor Gerry Siller and Councilman Jim Colligan, are incumbent Republican Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams, and newly minted Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla, a Democrat who won a close race over Republican Marcus Kaasik to finish the two years remaining in Mike Bebon’s term following his resignation. Ms. Ianfolla was sworn in Dec. 3.

Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams (Credit: Judy Card)

All three women agree the major issues facing Islanders haven’t changed. The priorities will continue to be to improve water quality and quantity; move affordable housing initiatives forward; and take on finding solutions to reduce the deer population and decrease tick-borne diseases.

“The issues are the issues,” Ms. Brach-Williams said. But the tone of discussions is going to change, she predicted. This is because women bring different perspectives to problem-solving, she said. They tend to be better communicators, better listeners and more inclusive in their outlooks, she added.

Ms. Brach-Williams noted that she and Ms. Ianfolla are mothers and Ms. Larsen has close relationships with children through her extended family, which will also influence their approach to solutions to problems facing Island families.

She’s hoping the example of women leadership on the Town Board will draw more women to consider public service, whether through elective office or appointments to boards and committees.

Ms. Larsen represents a younger Island generation, and said her work experience and need to balance financial needs to enable her to maintain residency in an economically challenging town will bring new light to discussions.

Even if she doesn’t initially agree with views of others, she describes herself as a good listener, ready to hear conflicting ideas that could change her mind.

The new Town Board has “a nice balance of people,” Ms. Larsen said, and she values the opportunity to speak for young Islanders who struggle to remain Island residents in a town that is changing.

“I think it’s going to be great. I’m looking forward to working with everybody,” Ms. Larsen said.

Ms. Ianfolla doesn’t think the gender difference is the overriding factor for how the Town Board might discuss and decide on issues.

BJ Ianfolla, moments after being sworn in for a two-year term on the Town Board by Supervisor Gerry Siller at Town Hall Dec. 3 (Credit: Ambrose Clancy )

“You can find jerks among either gender,” she said. But what’s significant for her is Ms. Larsen’s age, which should encourage other young people to get involved in Town government.

At the same time, she’s concerned that while younger community members need to be involved in bringing their needs to the forefront, she understands it’s difficult for many to find time for work, family and community service.

Still, she hopes Ms. Larsen’s election will attract more younger residents to get involved in making decisions to benefit the common good.