Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll addresses a packed room during the Women Elected Municipal Officials luncheon on Jan. 20.

Just 13 days into her new role, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, a trailblazing elected official with deep experience in local government, including 17 years as mayor of Salem, inspired attendees of the Women Elected Municipal Officials Leadership Luncheon on Jan. 20 with reflections on her professional path to the State House.

“I am so grateful for the time I spent in local government,” Driscoll said. “My journey started as a college student who got an internship in Salem’s Planning Department, and that taught me that where services and the rubber really hit the road is local government.”

At the WEMO event, held during the MMA Annual Meeting & Trade Show in Boston, Driscoll talked about her years working in Chelsea — when the city was coming out of receivership and was going through a form of government change — and what that taught her about the importance of engagement and connection with citizens.

“I will always have a hat on as a local official,” Driscoll said. “Once a mayor, you are always a mayor. … I hope you use me as a resource.”

Driscoll, a self-described Navy brat, was born in Hawaii and moved frequently while growing up. She came to Salem for college and never left.

“We weren’t so good to women in 1692,” Driscoll quipped, referencing the witch trials. “But I always felt like it was a place that, even if you weren’t born there, it could feel like your hometown.”

Driscoll served as a councillor for three years before she decided that, in order to really lean into the work, she needed to run for mayor. With support from her husband, Nick, a union bricklayer, and three young kids at home, Driscoll quit her job in order to run, knocking on every door twice.

“We do need the support at home — spouses, children, family members,” she said. “It was a tough journey.”

She described receiving support, but also questions about how she would manage being a working parent. Some people said that the city was not ready for a woman mayor.

“Don’t accept that, push back on that,” she said. “You can’t change that you are a woman running for office. All you can do is run, do your best, hopefully win, and then kick ass when you are in office.”

Driscoll was elected five times, with a lot of lessons learned during that time, including the importance of building a strong working partnership with councillors.

“Good cities don’t happen by accident,” she said. “It takes intentional hard-working leadership, a shared vision among your legislative body, your board and commission members, your key stakeholders, whether it’s small businesses or large institutions coming together.”

Driscoll also highlighted areas where the new Healey-Driscoll administration intends to partner with local government, in housing development, education and economic investment, particularly with respect to the Commonwealth’s competitiveness with other states.

“There are lots of other states looking at our playbook, looking to lead in technology, life sciences, affordable housing, and [some have better weather], so we need to look at what our competitiveness means, working together to address our challenges.”

She acknowledged that not all communities have the same makeup, or needs, when it comes to housing, but issues such as the ability to live in the same community where you work, or the ability to age in place, affect the entire state.

“We are relying on our partnership with all of you to figure this out,” Driscoll said. “If we each do a little of it in each of our communities, we will be much better off.”

Taking a minute to recognize newly elected State Auditor Diana DiZoglio, also in attendance, Driscoll reflected on advances women have made in elected office in Massachusetts.

“How fortunate are we that five of our [six] constitutional officers are women,” Driscoll said. “Who would have thought that? We know it’s not just about achieving a first, but it’s the outcomes that happen when women are around the table in a position of decision making.

“The road to get here hasn’t been easy for any of us, but we have come a long way.”

Driscoll commended the women elected municipal officials in attendance for their decisions to run for office and their commitment to bettering their communities. She noted that young women will look to them as the models when they consider a future in elected office.

“I’m grateful to be serving today and to be recognizing the women throughout Massachusetts who see public service as a calling, an opportunity to improve the place we live,” Driscoll said. “I hope we can not only take the energy here today to shine a light on the work we are doing together, but to raise up opportunities for other women in our communities … to contribute their talents and skills.”

Driscoll answered a number of questions from attendees, both about her experience and about policy initiatives for her first year in state office. At the end of the event, she also chatted informally with attendees.

Interest in the WEMO group has been growing, along with the number of women serving in elected positions across the Commonwealth. In addition to the annual Leadership Luncheon in January, the group holds a spring symposium and a fall Leadership Conference.

At the annual luncheon, WEMO transitioned to its 2023 leadership board. The new chair is Shrewsbury Select Board Member Beth Casavant.

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