Meet your neighbor...Nancy Lefkowitz, a community activist and new RTM member
FAIRFIELD — In the course of a week, Nancy Lefkowitz hosted a fundraiser at her Fairfield home for a new organization promoting the election of progressive women in Connecticut, organized a “let’s talk about guns” event for hundreds of local residents following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and put the finishing touches on the Tribeca Film Festival, for which she’s the senior vice president.
“She’s like the bionic woman,” Lefkowitz’ friend, Deanna Spartachino, said while attending the rally for gun-violence prevention on Feb. 22.
In November, Lefkowitz broke through the Republican stronghold to become the first Democrat elected to the Representative Town Meeting from District 1 in years, if ever.
Before Lefkowitz was an activist and community leader, however, she was a new mom, living in a cottage on Fairfield Beach Road. She and her husband, Noah Hendler, rented it in 2002 after a friend told the young couple about the house, knowing they were contemplating a move out of Manhattan and aiming for something closer to nature and Lefkowitz’ hometown of Westport.
“It was kind of an idyllic time — new baby, beachfront. I took walks up and down Fairfield Beach Road every day,” the now 47-year-old said.
Eventually, Lefkowitz had two more kids, now all in Fairfield public schools, and moved to a home on Redding Road. Professionally, her time was spent working for the Tribeca Film Festival and Tribeca Enterprises in talent relations, a position she earned after working first as a production assistant on film sets and then as assistant to Jane Rosenthal, who, with Robert De Niro, co-founded the film festival in the wake of 9/11.
Then came Dec. 14, 2012, the day 20 children and six adults were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Lefkowitz had kids in elementary school at the time and said her personal skills and professional interests aligned in a way that compelled her, in the days following the Newtown shooting, to educate herself and mobilize on the issue of gun control.
“With the devastating nature of the loss at Sandy Hook, I understood innately there was going to be people who were deeply impacted that were going to be paralyzed by the tragedy and I thought, well, I’m primed to do something, I’m inclined to do something, and rather than being paralyzed, as I know many people were in those days, it energized and activated me,” Lefkowitz said. “I was angry and I was afraid for the safety of my children, and I often said, ‘Beware the mother that fears the safety of her child,’ because you become unstoppable.”
Although gun-violence prevention is a multifaceted issue, Lefkowitz said she quickly homed in on an area where she could see potential success: legislation.
Together with fellow Fairfielder Meg Staunton, Lefkowitz co-founded March for Change, a gun-violence prevention advocacy organization that helped push through, in the 2013 legislative session in Hartford, the strongest package of gun-violence prevention legislation of any state in the country.
“And it worked,” Lefkowitz said. “Strong gun laws do equate to lower gun-related deaths. I became addicted to that idea that change is possible through activism, through political action, through grassroots efforts.”
In the years since Sandy Hook, Lefkowitz said she’s continued the constant and long-term work on the issue of gun-violence prevention: writing letters, making phone calls, showing up to press conferences, and joining the boards of Connecticut Against Gun Violence and the Brady Center.
Lefkowitz’ turn toward local politics only came after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, after which Lefkowitz said she took President Barack Obama’s words — “If you don’t like the lawmakers, vote, change the lawmakers.” — to heart.
“I stopped being able to answer the question ‘Why not me?’” Lefkowitz said. While at first she contemplated statewide office, she said she decided instead to run for the RTM, “understanding that what was so frustrating at the national level might not be as frustrating at the local level, where you could be part of change.”
Over the course of seven weeks, Lefkowitz said she knocked on 2,000 doors, made hundreds of phone calls and opened her home to her neighbors to emphasize the kind of transparent communication she wanted to practice if elected to the RTM, which she was in 2017, winning by a narrow margin.
“The fact that I won by 18 votes really amplifies how important each vote is,” the Fairfield resident said
Through all her activism — such as coordinating a bus of local women to attend the Women’s March in Hartford in January and helping to launch Time’s Up, a movement started by women in the entertainment industry to address sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace — she said her family has been a rock.
“Above all else, I have an incredibly supportive family. My husband and I have a great partnership and I think that is the most important element, because when things are crazy for me and I’m working with a singular focus on something, he’s able to pick up the slack at home, and vice versa,” Lefkowitz said.
A more experienced activist now than she was after Sandy Hook, Lefkowitz said she’s learned from the work, but still believes her blindness at the beginning to have been a benefit.
“I went into it probably a little bit naively, which I thing was a good thing, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Lefkowitz said. “I often say that can be a real advantage because you don’t let the pitfalls and potential obstacles stop you. You just create a new path forward.”