Mona Becker and Stacy Link were both sworn in as the first female mayors in their municipalities and both became the county’s first openly gay mayors to serve in office.
by Linda L. Esterson, photography by Nikola Tzenov
Two Women Break the Glass Ceiling in Carroll Governments
On the same evening last May, Stacy Link and Mona Becker accomplished the same significant first in Carroll County: Both were sworn in as the first female mayors in their municipalities, and both became the county’s first openly gay mayors to serve in office.
“We’ve come a long way in recognizing the value of an individual and their leadership, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation,” says Ed Rothstein, county commissioner for the 5th district. “We’re all after the same end goal, and that is safety, security and quality of life for our communities. I see both of them as strong leaders, and oh, by the way, they happen to be women, and openly gay. And I’m very proud that they’ve both stepped up and forward
Link and Becker are the first female mayors in their townships, Sykesville and Westminster respectively, but they follow two other women who served in the highest capacity in other county municipalities. Julia Gouge served as mayor of Hampstead from 1983 to 1986, and Linda Boyer held the role in Mount Airy from 1986 to 1990.Historically, Carroll County has been known as a conservative county that votes Republican and was mostly run by men. But women played a part in the growth of small towns and the county. According to research by Joe Getty for the Historical Society of Carroll County in 1993, Mary Bostwick Shellman, a prominent Westminster resident and community activist at the turn of the 20th century, was known for supporting progressive causes including a movement that supported women’s right to vote. Mary Gray Clemson was the first woman admitted to the Carroll County bar in 1946. The first women selected for a Carroll County jury served during the May term of the Circuit Court in 1957. As women raised their voices in the country and the county, they also fought for their right to serve. Today, the female mayors are accompanied by others serving on town councils in all eight county municipalities.
“In Sykesville, the good ol’ boys ran the town for quite some time,” says Jonathan Herman, who served as the town’s mayor from 1994 to 2009. “Now, it’s more women active in town activities and the good ol’ boys don’t really exist anymore … not in a leadership position.
“Women are getting involved and are being appreciated for doing excellent work.”
According to Kevin Dayhoff, a longtime Westminster Common Council member who served as mayor from 2001 to 2005, with women comprising more than 50 percent of the population, it’s only natural that more females are elected to top leadership positions. Today, the House of Representatives includes 145 women, comprising 27 percent of the seats, and the vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris, is the first woman to serve in that capacity.
“It’s a voice that’s very much needed,” said Dayhoff, who also writes a column on Carroll County history that appears in the Carroll County Times. “Their voice and their view are critical to balance the decisions and the problem-solving that we need to do as elected officials.”
Through his research, Dayhoff is unaware of any mayors who were openly gay while serving the position in the past. For Becker and Link, being open and transparent not only demonstrates their integrity, but it shows their determination.“What it represents is that they have met adversity in their lives, and they have overcome that adversity in a very positive, affirming way,” Dayhoff said. “I think that’s important because we want elected leadership who knows how to deal with adversity and difficulty. … Success as an elected leader has a direct relationship with how we deal with setbacks and disappointments. To grow up and be an openly gay person and to be as positive as they are, this is a direct qualification for office.
“I would rather deal with somebody who has tried and failed than somebody whose success has always come easily and the road ahead has always been paved for them.”
Blazing their trails
At 9 years old in 1984, Link had her first brush with government, unaware that it would impact her future. Growing up in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, Link loved baseball and played in a Peewee League with area boys for four years. When it was time to register for the next level, Little League, she was denied the right to play by the league’s officers.
Her father filed a discrimination suit against the league. Link spent a year in an intermediate league created so she could play. Other girls and boys who hadn’t played before joined, and Link excelled, making the all-star team at season’s end. Meanwhile at school, some boys confronted her, threatening to hit her with the ball if she did end up playing — mimicking what they heard from their fathers, she says.
The next year, she won the right to play in Little League, but the officers abandoned their posts and the hometown team disbanded. When the league reformed, it failed to include a team in her small town, leaving Link and a few others without a chance to play locally. That’s when she turned to softball, and eventually played in college.
Her father had taught her a lesson in advocacy. “He showed me what it is to not take no for an answer,” says Link, now 47. “When you’re being told no out of nothing but preconceived notions or a thousand years of men thinking that females don’t deserve the same, it’s impossible for someone like me to look back at 9-year-old Stacy and not be thankful. I like who I am and it’s because I was told it was OK for me to want to do things that weren’t necessarily in keeping with what other girls my size, in the town I grew up in, wanted to do.”
Link served two terms on the Town Council after being appointed a historic district commissioner. She’s also been an active volunteer in the community for a dozen years.
“It’s just the natural progression of things,” she says of her election as mayor.
Becker’s election was a progression of a different sort. Her 20 years of experience in education gives her a different perspective from career politicians and attorneys. Becker holds a doctorate in geology, focusing on earth processes, and spent two years at Oxford University in England working on climate change.
For the past three years, Becker has taught science at Westminster High School, after serving at Sykesville Middle School and founding the environmental science department at McDaniel College. She served on the executive board and later served as president of the Maryland Association of Science Teachers. She lives in Westminster with wife Melanie Nilsson and their two cats. Becker served on the Westminster city council, and at the time was one of two women serving simultaneously, a first for that group.
When the incumbent, Joe Dominick, announced he would not run for re-election, Becker took the chance to further her dedication to community service and push for transparency in government.
“I did not run on the platform of being the first female mayor [in Westminster] or that I was going to be better because I was a female,” she says. “I think that it’s fantastic; don’t get me wrong. But really, my campaign was focused on making sure that everybody in Westminster would know they had a voice at the table. It was focused on inclusion and openness in local government.”
Growing up, Link was inspired by women in her family, from her mother to her 12 aunts and two grandmothers, all problem-solving nurturers who exemplified strength and perseverance, she says. Their focus was on family. But it was her Aunt Marie, who still played fast-pitch softball at 40, who she says passed along her lifelong “love me or leave me” mentality, and her words replay in Link’s mind, she says, like a song chorus. “There will be doubters and those who will get in our way just so they can say they did. They are not on their own path. Go around them. People will join you when they see that what you’re working toward is good for them, too. Bring them with you. You’ll need each other.”
For Becker, one of her role models is Angela Merkel, who served as the chancellor of Germany from 2005-2021. Merkel was a scientist who transitioned into politics and became the country’s first female chancellor. Becker cites her dynamic leadership and emphasis on international communication and cooperation as inspiring. Becker also names Harris, the vice president, and the several female Supreme Court justices. She’s a fan of Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a war veteran and an amputee who had a baby while in office.
“I think that having seen women in these roles, [they are] definitely serving as a role model,” she says. “I think it’s about time. We’re at least half of the population and it’s about time that we have the representation for us at every government level from municipal government to the federal level.”
Just as those women have served as role models for them, Becker and Link recognize their responsibility to do the same for the current generation of young women. The impact of her election hit home for Link when, as part of the Fourth of July Parade, she proceeded along Springfield Avenue in a convertible, and viewed a sea of happy, smiling faces. As the vehicle turned onto Main Street, she saw a group of young children seated on the curb. She heard them proclaim, “That’s the mayor!” Then it hit her — she was the mayor. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a young girl, jumping up and down, waving her hands, excited to see her.
“I was so moved by the crowds of people,” she says. “But the little faces, just knowing who the mayor was and it meaning something, that was a big deal.”
Link is a self-employed occupational therapist who lives in an 1897 Victorian house with her wife, Dana Alonzi, and two cats. She campaigned to win the election, but also to win civic engagement. She wanted a record-breaking turnout, which occurred, and aims to engage with and inspire citizens to become involved.
At the same time, her fellow Sykesvillians provide inspiration for her. At a flag raising ceremony in January, a 19-year-old food service worker excitedly told Link she “got to” vote for her. It was her first chance to vote and she pointedly expressed that she was excited by the opportunity.
Becker also realizes the impact of her election on young women in the county. “You can do anything you want today, be whoever you want and chase the dreams you want to chase,” she says, directing her comments to young women. “The future is bright and 100 percent yours. Keep your eyes ahead of you, don’t look back. You’ve got this!”
Women as Leaders
Women possess an inherent nurturing quality, according to Herman, different from men who can be more competitive and contentious. Dayhoff cites women’s problem-solving abilities, capabilities to multitask, and their view and perspective.
Rothstein, who served in the Army for 30 years, does not feel women lead differently than men. “I am so proud to have served, to have led and been led by some of the most amazing female officers and leaders that the Army has been able to develop,” he says. “And I don’t look at them any differently than I look at anyone else. So again, they’re strong leaders — and oh, by the way, they happen to be women.”
Dayhoff adds, “I think that the election of Mayor Link and Mayor Becker in the same cycle is yet another leap forward. Leadership in Carroll County is looking like the constituency that we serve, and I think it’s an important step.”