Historic election wins for women in Coastal Empire

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SANDY SPRINGS, GA – MARCH 06: “I’m a Georgia Voter” stickers are seen at a polling station in St Andrew Presbyterian Church March 6, 2012 in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Ten states, including Georgia, hold caucuses and primaries today for voters to pick their choices for the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Nearly a half-dozen women earned a place in local history Tuesday, winning seats where only men have served before.

In Bulloch County, three women defeated male incumbents — a first in Statesboro’s 216-year history. Venus Mack, Paulette Chavers and Shari Barr are the first women ever elected to the city council.

“We are all incredibly proud of our story,” Mack told News 3. “This was a people-first, deliberate and dedicated campaign, and that is how you win in any political race, and especially for young women leaders.”

In Chatham County, two women won mayoral races in Pooler and on Tybee Island. Rebecca Benton is the first woman set to serve as mayor in Pooler history.

“I have waited for this honor for many years and I really do appreciate and I’m ready to get in there and run the city,” Benton said.

Shirley Sessions is the new mayor-elect on Tybee — the first woman to win that office in the city’s 132-year history of incorporation.

“It’s really amazing that we do finally have a woman in a leadership role,” Sessions said. “I’m really looking forward to what lies ahead. I’m very much a believer in working together as a community.”

A political science associate professor on Georgia Southern’s Armstrong Campus in Savannah says all the women who made history in Tuesday’s election overcame significant obstacles with their campaigns in Bulloch and Chatham counties.

“Those three new women beat incumbents and that’s very unusual,” said Dr. Lara Wessel. “So when we see women or men beating incumbents, again we want to look to try to figure out what’s going on behind those election results.

“What it says to me is that the citizens of Statesboro and the citizens of Savannah are interested in change.”

Dr. Wessel adds that the five women who won elections are much more than trailblazers, they’re local proof female candidates can break through barriers that have held women out of some local political offices for centuries.

“Historically, women have had a harder time becoming candidates in the first place due to less of an ability to attract big donors, name recognition, endorsements etcetera,” she said. “As more women are overcoming those barriers they’re becoming more competitive and we’re seeing that at the local level.”

She adds the victories by these women marks a trend of surprises that will probably continue into the 2020 election cycle.

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