With the town poised to celebrate its 375th anniversary, the Representative Town Meeting on Monday marked a milestone of its own -- the election of the legislative body's first woman moderator.

In a demonstration of bipartisan support, Mary McCullough, R-3, was unanimously elected moderator of the legislative body, with her name placed in nomination by Peter Ambrose, R-2, and seconded by Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7.

"Mary is a seasoned veteran of the RTM," Ambrose said, and during her eight-year tenure has "demonstrated qualities of fairness and leadership ... She's open-minded and considerate."

Schwartz said he was honored to second the nomination. "We go back a long way," he said of McCullough."

McCullough said she didn't know when she expressed interest in the open position -- Jeff Steele did not seek the job again -- that she would be breaking new ground.

"I had no idea," McCullough said, especially with "all the strong female role models" the town has had -- including its only female first selectman, the late Jacquelyn Durrell.

Among McCullough's first words to the RTM after her selection were: "Be kind."

She said with the start of her fifth term on the legislative body, and having chaired the Education and Recreation Committee for the last two terms, "I thought, what's next?"

McCullough said she's had some good role models in previous RTM moderators and thought, "I can do this." Her decision, she said, "shocked" some fellow politicians. But, she said, "I thought why not give it a try?"

Her election drew praise from other female political figures in town.

"I'm thrilled that the glass ceiling has finally been shattered on the Fairfield RTM and that we have such an eminently qualified woman as Mary to serve as moderator," said former Selectman Jill Kelly.

State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, herself a former RTM member, said that McCullough is a seasoned veteran with the experience needed to oversee the body's meetings.

"As women serving in elected office, we are natural role models for young women and girls in our town," Kupchick said. "Standing up to conventional attitudes and making a difference is a powerful message for young women, and I know Mary will serve as an inspiration to all members of our community."

And Fiscal Officer Bob Mayer offered his congratulations during the meeting. "As the father of two daughters, I appreciate such breakthroughs," he said.

It took a few minutes for RTM members to get used to their new moderator, as they pondered how to address McCullough. Miss Chairman? Madame Chairman? Madame Chairman, they learned is the proper term.

"Mary is a dynamic leader who will continue to raise the bar for decorum in local politics," Majority Leader Ed Bateson, R-3, said. "She will rise above the partisan politics, keep the body focused on the issues up for discussion and help keep our town on track and moving forward."

McCullough will have to match some new names with faces for this RTM, though keeping track of the veteran members can be a challenge itself. When Steele, R-2, raised his hand, it took McCullough a few beats to remember his name. Steele, who preceded McCullough as moderator, took the brief memory lapse in stride, joking, "Of all the names to forget."

The new moderator said that there have been some "really wonderful, conscientious people that didn't use the position to do anything other than forward the business of the town" and that is what she hopes to do.

"I have lots of patience," McCullough said. "We have a lot of work to do," with a new redistricting plan just one of those items that need work. "Hopefully, I have the stamina and will to continue to do it."

Hank Ference, R-3, was elected deputy moderator. Republicans chose Ed Bateson, from District 3, and Michael Herley, from District 1, as majority and assistant majority leaders. Chosen by Democrats as minority leader and assistant minority leader, respectively, were Hal Schwartz, District 7, and Sheila Marmion, District 6.

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