ELECTIONS 2013

More women lead Lexington County communities

tflach@thestate.comNovember 8, 2013 

— Rosalyn Reeder of Summit is happy that the solitary sisterhood she long endured as the only woman mayor in Lexington County is ended.

“Things are changing,” she said. “We want to do our part and be heard.”

The ranks of women in the top municipal posts in the county’s 14 communities doubled to four in elections Tuesday, as Batesburg-Leesville and Pelion joined Summit and Cayce.

Lexington Town Councilwoman Kathy Maness is pleased with the trend, noting women bring family concerns into decisions often dominated by financial considerations.

“It’s important we have a balance,” said Maness, former president of the National Conference of Women in Municipal Government.

The increase is a matter of more women being ready to seek a mayoral post after serving on town councils, rather than a breakthrough.

“It’s just an evolution,” says Reeder, who was Lexington County’s only woman mayor for the first 16 of the 21 years she has served as leader of Summit’s 300 residents.

Women serve on all five school boards, County Council and 13 municipal councils in the county as well as planning commissions and other advisory panels. Pine Ridge, the only town with all-male elected leadership currently, has had women serve as mayor and in appointed roles, such as administrator.

Before the ballot, women were mayors in 40 of 270 municipalities in the state, according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

For Elise Partin, mayor in Cayce for five years, gender is one of many factors that voters weigh with a candidate’s proposed solutions to local topics mattering most.

“They look at what you bring to the table,” she said.

Barbara Smith, Pelion’s new mayor, said she decided she wanted to “be effective” after returning to her hometown in 2008, following a career as an educator elsewhere.

Becoming mayor “just fit,” after a brief stint on Town Council, she said.

Smith will be Pelion’s second woman mayor. Former legislator Elsie Rast Stuart was mayor there in the 1980s.

In Batesburg-Leesville, Rita Crapps is changing chairs from council member to mayor.

Smith and Crapps won with the endorsement of longtime mayors who retired. Both have a network of relatives and friends who provided support and campaign help.

The rise in women elected mayors “could be absolute coincidence,” Crapps said. “You vote for a person’s experience, you vote for their knowledge.”

She will serve as town leader, with daughter Meggie Ricard elected to the council post that Crapps held for 21 years.

Ricard called her decision to run natural since she knows the ins and outs of Town Hall after attending meetings and discussing matters over the years with her mother.

It did surprise her mother.

“I had not given that great a consideration to the fact that she had a taste for it,” Crapps, 53, said of her 27-year-old daughter. “But she’s as well indoctrinated as anyone. She’s up to speed.”

Crapps and Ricard expect disagreement to be rare.

“It would surprise me,” Ricard said. “We have a lot of the same vision for the town.”

Crapps doesn’t mind if her daughter goes her own way politically.

“Blood has no bearing in this situation,” she said. “If she disagrees with mom, that’s OK.”

Their partnership in public office is a tradition.

Crapps’ father was a state representative in the 1960s and her brother is a mayor in Virginia.

“It really is the thing in our family,” she said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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