Melanie Sachs and Kristina Egan, two members of the current Emerge Maine class have one thing in common: they both serve on the Freeport Town Council. They took slightly different paths to become elected officials and Emergistas. But both of their journeys involved an Emerge Maine alum, Sara Gideon, class of 2012.
“I ran in a three-way primary a year ago for the nomination for state rep from House District 106,” says Melanie Sachs, who is married with two children and has lived in Freeport for five years. “And I came really, really close losing by only 64 votes.” Who beat her? Sara Gideon, who successfully went on to win a seat in the Maine House last November. Soon after the primary, Sachs decided to apply to the Emerge Maine program thinking, “Can you imagine how well I’ll do as a candidate when I have a clue?”
Kristina Egan moved to South Freeport two and a half years ago with her young son after marrying Alan Caron, a well-known figure in Maine policy and political circles. “I moved for love,” Egan quips. Then she decided to embrace her new town. “I wanted to get instantly embedded in the community and ran for office within a year of coming here from Massachusetts,” says Egan.
Egan ended up on the town council after prevailing over incumbent Joe Migliaccio. It was there that she met Sara Gideon who encouraged her to apply to the Emerge Maine program.
Egan settled into her new duties on the council and within a year had assumed a leadership role as vice-chair. Meanwhile, various people were asking Sachs to run for the town council in the fall 2012 elections. She initially said no but at the last minute an incumbent decided not to run and requests, including one from Kristina Egan, kept coming. Sachs relented, ran and won.
Now the two women are colleagues and classmates. Each comes from a policy background. Melanie Sachs is a clinical social worker with twenty years of healthcare experience including hospice and homecare work all over rural Maine. Most recently, she worked for two private health management companies, Beacon Hill Strategies and APS Healthcare. “These companies manage MaineCare benefits with the goals of helping patients stay in their homes and communities while at the same time saving money and improving the quality of care. My work was a nice interface between the private, non-profit and government sectors aimed at helping the Maine consumer,” Sachs points out.
Kristina Egan’s policy focus has been slightly different. She has worked overseas as a project manager for an international NGO in Bangkok which focused on energy efficiency issues and green standards. She has also worked for Gov. Deval Patrick in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation where she served as director of South Coast Rail, a $1.4 billion project to extend rail to communities without it. Now, in addition to being a public official and a student, she directs a coalition of environmental, business and social justice groups in Massachusetts working on public transportation issues. “The essential thing that motivates me is climate change,” says Egan. “That is the biggest challenge our generation faces. All my work has involved reducing energy consumption in one form or another,” she adds.
Both women’s policy work has extended to their particular interests on the Freeport Town Council. Sachs is interested in information and communications issues: “Freeport is blessed with environmental assets but there is no repository and no access for that information. One simple thing we can do is increase access to that knowledge base and so be good stewards of those assets, “ Sachs observes. “I would also like to be able to communicate with my constituents in a timely way about how and why decisions affected them are made,” she adds.
Kristina Egan is focusing on the three issues she ran on: capping property taxes for low income and elderly people, engaging town residents in decision making and in a nod to her transportation and “green” expertise--working on a comprehensive plan for walking, hiking and biking trails in Freeport. “I’ve only been here a short time but gained a solid understanding of the issues from residents as I did my door-to-door,” she says. “It’s remarkable how open the process is in Maine to newcomers.”
As these two women move through the Emerge Maine program while also holding public office, it would seem logical to assume that their political careers have only begun. Melanie Sachs says the Emerge Maine program has truly been helpful. She adds, “And as I’m already enjoying my work on the Town Council I’m definitely keeping my signs in the barn for future campaigns.” As for Kristina Egan, she says she has been inspired by the women she has met in the Emerge Maine program and hopes to stay on the political scene for the foreseeable future. “I don’t know exactly what’s next for me but I do know that it’s important for me to stay in the public arena and focus my energy on issues that are important to me and the people of Maine.”