Kindness & Accountability: Amesbury’s New Mayor Wants You to Be Her Neighbor & to Keep Her on Her Toes
Can Amesbury be a well-governed Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?
Election Day 2019 was inspiring for many of us living in this small city in northeastern Massachusetts. It was a long-awaited day and (for me at least) a bit of a dream come true.
It was the day Kassandra Gove, the first Amesbury native, the youngest (at 34), and the first woman was elected Mayor of Amesbury.
The new city leader won by a narrow margin (as many elections are, especially in small towns) but in addition to the three firsts of being female, young, and native-born, Gove’s win was also significant because of the win for almost all city candidates who supported her — seven City Councilors, four School Committee members, and at least three Library Trustees.
I believe voters sent a message that they wanted a more responsive and transparent town government that creatively operates in the 21st-century and values our cultural assets as much as our business development.
The election was swept by so-called “progressives.” I have no idea if Mayor Gove identifies herself as a progressive…but that’s probably the most accurate label (if you need a label) for others who were elected. Some would call these folks “the Left” (or “snowflakes” and a few other names by some members of the Amesbury Talks Facebook Group). I know many of these newly elected officials and I call them caring, informed citizens who love their town, wish to serve, and help Amesbury become all it was meant to be.
I don’t know the current level of support for Mayor Gove, but there’s excitement in the air and anticipation of a more expansive, innovative future.
It was no small matter that Gove received an endorsement from the local Firefighter’s Union (I believe they’ve not previously endorsed a candidate).
The American Federation of Teachers Amesbury Local #1033 also endorsed Gove and the four School Committee candidates on the poster: Kate Currie, Jana DeBeer, Mel Webster and Maryann Welch — all of whom won their seats.
Amesbury’s 12th Inaugural Ceremony
On the evening of January 2, 2020, city hall hosted quite a celebration.
Three former mayors of Amesbury attended the inaugural ceremony to celebrate the historic event and honor the incoming mayor:
The Honorable Thatcher Kezer (2006–2013)
The Honorable David Hildt (2002 -2005)
The Honorable Nicholas Costello (1997-2001)
In her inaugural speech, after thanking outgoing mayor, Ken Gray and congratulating the newly sworn-in city officials, Mayor Gove went on to say…
“I grew up in our town, and in our schools and our neighborhoods.
I also grew up in the neighborhood of Mr. Fred Rogers…
His legacy and impact has been celebrated over the last two years with a documentary, a book Kindness and Wonder: Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever…and new film that I got to see over the holidays. His children’s televison show aired for over 30 years…so I’m sure many of you also grew up in his neighborhood.
Kindness and Wonder
I grew up watching Mister Rogers. I introduced all three of my daughters to Mister Rogers in their preschool years and…
The mayor continued,
“He had a way of slowing things down, appreciating the silence, and had a genuine concern for the social and emotional development of children.
One of the things he often did with a live audience, was to pause…and you’re my live audience, so we’re going to pause…I want us all to take 10 seconds to think about and thank the people who’ve supported us, guided us and gotten us to where we are today.
We’re all entering 2020 together — a new year, a new decade, some of us with new responsibilities, and all of us with goals and achievements to celebrate. So join me in thinking of those who helped you get here today. I’ll keep the time….”
Then 200 people sat in silence for 10 seconds.
And it was powerful.
She went on to acknowledge that she was there because of all of us…she also acknowledged that there were almost as many people who voted for someone else or didn’t vote at all.
She promised the citizens of Amesbury to always listen, to be transparent, to make sure that she and her team communicate what’s going on and how decisions are being made.
She stated, “As I said during the campaign, I want you to hold us accountable.”
It’s rare for a politician to ask to be held accountable. Candidates might say that during their campaign, but to repeat that request and commitment in her first speech was more than impressive.
Back to the Neighborhood
When Mayor Gove first stated that she also grew up in the neighborhood of Mr. Rogers, I thought “what is she talking about?” But in an instant, I got it and experienced an internal “wow.”
I was still taking it in as she continued, and it wasn’t until later that evening that my “wow” was complete. Here’s what I took away from her speech:
By telling us that she also grew up in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and then leading us into 10-seconds of silence…she not only offered a more intimate picture of herself, but she let us know that as our city’s new leader, her vision and hope is for Amesbury to be a town of kindness — a town where we know our neighbors and we look out for each other…where we focus on what brings us together rather than what might divide us.
I can’t imagine another mayor speaking those words, and communicating that profound vision…but she did and it was perfect.
Maybe I’m reading more into this than was intended. But I’m feeling deeply inspired by what I think I see.
There’s always newness and a fresh perspective when younger people step into leadership, but I’ve seen glimpses of something in Kassandra that I believe may take us in a direction and approach to governing that we can’t yet fully imagine.
I’m almost twice her age. I’ve always been curious about how the generations younger than mine perceive the world — how they think about their lives, what has come before them, what their future holds and what impact they can have on it.
I am not around young people on a consistent basis, and because of that, they remain somewhat of a mystery to me, other than what I read in articles, see in movies or try to drag out of my nieces.
But two years ago I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing when an unimaginable tragedy opened the door for teenagers to step up as profoundly brilliant leaders, with the competence and confidence that’s rarely seen in adults.
I could hardly wrap my head around what I saw happening. I searched online to find out all I could about what the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida were doing — how they were responding to the horrific shooting that took place at their school.
I saw the future and it was astounding. I wrote this piece about them in 2018: “Gen Z Just Flipped Leadership from Adults to Youth and It’s a New Paradigm”
Kassandra Gove is not of the same generation as the Parkland teens but she’s at least one generation removed from anyone who’s been our mayor.
I can’t be certain, but I believe she’ll be much more than simply a young woman, born and raised in Amesbury who now holds the highest municipal office. I don’t think she’ll bring that identity and just slap it down over the old template of “Mayor.”
I believe she’ll bring a new paradigm. On the surface, it probably won’t be a radical departure but might be profound in spirit. She might bring a different kind of energy to the task of governing — the kind of energy from a mayor who knows where she stands, doesn’t have something to prove, has an ambitious vision and will give it 100 percent. A mayor with the firm but gentle presence of authentic confidence.
And what Mr. Rogers would call kindness.