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No Place Like Home

Board meeting

As the youngest person ever elected to the Marshfield, Mass., Board of Selectmen, Tufts graduate Kate O’Donnell is working to preserve her hometown’s charm.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.09.07] Tufts graduate Kate O’Donnell admitted to The Boston Globe that she was “a little shocked” last year when she became the youngest person ever elected to the Marshfield, Mass., Board of Selectmen. But the 23-year-old, who said that her love for her hometown motivated her to run for office, stepped into her new role with confidence.

"I absolutely love Marshfield," O’Donnell told the Globe about the community of nearly 25,000 people. "It's a large town with a small-town feel. I want it to keep feeling like everyone knows everyone.”

That desire inspired O’Donnell to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen last year, even though she had little experience in politics.

"I had never even taken part in student government in high school or college," O'Donnell, who earned a degree in American studies from Tufts in 2005, told the Globe. "This was all new to me."

But O’Donnell—who became interested in local government while she volunteered for the Marshfield Planning Board—turned out to be a quick study, according to the newspaper. After defeating incumbent Greg Owen in last year’s election, she jumped full-force into her new job.

"Though Kate does not have the experience of some of us, she does seem to ask all the right questions,” Patricia Epstein, a veteran selectman, told the Globe. “She always comes to meetings prepared.”

O’Donnell explained to the Globe that for the past year, she’s tried to put her best foot forward when dealing with major town issues like affordable housing and an override of Proposition 2½, a law pertaining to the amount of revenue a city or town can raise from property taxes.

"When I go to meetings I get all hopped up,” she told the newspaper. “I don't sleep well after them because I want to always do the best I can."

O’Donnell, who also works full-time at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the Globe that politics can be tough at times.

"For anyone who thinks politics is easy, I invite you to run for office," she told the newspaper. "The behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on at Town Hall is amazing. It's never as easy as someone saying we need to go out and fix this and it gets fixed."

According to Michael Maresco, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, despite her youth, O’Donnell already has a solid grasp of how system works.

“She's very intelligent and understands that not everything can be solved quickly and easily,” he told the Globe. Epstein added that O’Donnell is “doing a good job."

In O’Donnell’s estimation, she’s on her way to accomplishing what she set out to do.

“I want to make sure [ Marshfield] never loses its charm,” she told the Globe. “That's why I ran. I wasn't out to prove anything else."

An unintended consequence of O’Donnell’s success, however, is the fact that she has become a role model for young girls.

“I got a letter from Girl Scouts telling me how they were proud of me. I also had an elementary school teacher tell me he talked to his class about me and what I had done,” she told the Globe. “I never envisioned myself a role model. I just want to do whatever I can to help the town.”

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