Ordinary, Extraordinary Changemakers Series – Pt. 9

Kathy O’Keefe is a candidate on the November 2017 Democratic ticket for town council in Ringwood, NJ.
Ringwood is a small town of 12,000 people. Currently there are no Democrats on the town council. Kathy decided to step up and take action for her community.

This is her story in her own words (edited for space and flow).

One day I asked the former mayor of Ringwood, “Who is running? You have to tell me I will have a choice this year.” She looked at me and said, “You want someone to vote for? I suggest you run.”

Here I am!

A lot of us aren’t compelled to run for office. We think that we have to have so much more experience than we do. We kind of hold ourselves back. Most men will stand up and say “I’m going to run.” Most women wait to be asked.

That’s unfortunate because not a lot of people are asking us to run.

I have three daughters – 28, 26 and 15. I want them to see what it means to step up. I want to set a good example.

We have some serious issues here in Ringwood and our current council isn’t making good decisions. The contamination from the O’Connor Landfill, an EPA Superfund site, is a potential threat to the nearby reservoir and Ringwood municipal and private wells. The reservoir supplies drinking water to 3 million NJ residents.

Instead of moving ahead with a full excavation, our town council made a deal with Ford (Motor Company) behind closed doors. The community was shocked to learn that instead of the full clean up that had been promised, they intended to cap it and leave this toxic threat intact. This solution will save Ford over $32 million and the town will have to monitor this site forever.

Ringwood C.A.R.E.S. formed to fight this poor decision. They attempted to put the question directly to the voters and include it on the ballot last November. Ford and the town hired five attorneys to stop the voters from having a say in this important decision. The attorneys defeated the local citizens who couldn’t afford representation.

It is imperative that the people of Ringwood have new leaders that put the health and welfare of our citizens first. The council needs to listen to the citizens of Ringwood, not fight their right to be heard.

When it came down to running for office, I was like, if not me, then who? If not now, then when?

I didn’t envision myself as a politician. I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking. But I’m inspired by the people who are giving back and helping us succeed. That, to me, is huge. It makes me want to work harder for them and to achieve more for the community. People are getting involved, coming out and saying, I’m here and I am going to stand with you; and I am going to help you win. I feel if they are doing that for me, then I have to work harder every single day.

Kirsten Bunch is the author of the international bestselling book "Next Act, Give Back." After a 20-year career in global development, where she fund-raised over $20 million and designed and managed social change programs in 10 countries, Kirsten reinvented herself and invented The Women's Changemaker Mentorship™. This is a one-of-a-kind program that propels successful women to become Changemakers in their communities. Her clients find deeper meaning and fulfillment in their lives through a more profound connection with their community. Many of her clients start heart-centered businesses, organizations and passion projects that create healthier, safer and more equitable communities.

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