Young mayors bring fresh perspective to office
Courtney Kubicar and Ashley Weaver have a lot in common.
They grew up playing intramural basketball on the same team. Both graduated from Bethlehem-Center High School and California University of Pennsylvania. They’re millennials, under 30 years old.
And they’re both mayors of small, neighboring boroughs.
Kubicar, 26, is serving her second term as mayor of Deemston Borough, while the 22-year-old Weaver was elected to her first term as mayor of Beallsville Borough in November.
Combined, the municipalities have a total population of 1,320; there’s not a single stop signal in Deemston Borough, while Beallsville is a one-stoplight town. Most high school elections are more hotly contested than their mayoral races were. Kubicar ran unopposed both times and Weaver won as a write-in candidate.
But the mayors have real responsibilities. Notably, during her first term, Kubicar oversaw the renovation and restoration of the historic Deemston Borough Building, a former schoolhouse, which was completed with a $100,000 Department of Community and Economic Development grant. She oversees the borough’s budget (like many tiny municipalities, it’s smaller than some personal incomes) and the road department.
And Kubicar has enlisted the help of the Washington County Community Services Furlough Into Service program, where nonviolent weekend inmates at the Washington County jail tackle projects including brush and tree removal, building construction and repair, painting projects, playground renovation and litter control.
“In general, I like to see Deemston be a clean and beautiful area. We’re in a beautiful location, and I don’t like to see garbage lying anywhere, especially in the borough that I’m mayor of,” said Kubicar. “Not that we get many tourists, but when we do, I want them to see the beautiful physical aspects of the borough.”
For her part, Weaver oversees the one-man police department and is working to resolve an ongoing conflict with the state Department of Transportation to determine who is responsible for replacing a faulty drainage system adjacent to the sidewalk along Route 40 that caused erosion beside a grate, resulting in a drop-off that is hazardous to motorists.
She’s also looking at ways to increase the borough’s presence during the annual National Pike Festival, which celebrates the construction of the National Road during the 19th century in order to reach settlements in the West.
Both have a level of maturity required to be a young mayor, and their openmindedness and enthusiasm haven’t gone unnoticed by their borough councils and residents.
Said Deemston Borough council member Charles Caprini, who also serves as the street commissioner “I have been with the borough for 36 years, since before Courtney was born. Her youthful energy and perspective is refreshing. She has done a fantastic job thus far and I am sure she will continue to do so for years to come.”
Finding someone willing to run for office in small towns can be difficult, so the decision by Kubicar and Weaver to step up was important for the municipalities, says James Nowalk, mayor of Whitehall Borough and president of the Pennsylvania State Mayors Association.
And, he thinks, it’s a good thing for Pennsylvania’s young people, especially women, to get involved in public service.
About 17 percent of the state’s approximately 305 new mayors are women, and while no statistics regarding age were available, Nowalk has noticed, anecdotally, a trend among younger people to join the mayoral ranks.
“What they do is they connect the younger generation to the political process. For some young people who didn’t think it was their thing, they see their friends get involved and it inspires them to do the same,” said Nowalk. “Maybe this is a turning point for more young people getting into government. Maybe they’ve been following the Arab spring and what’s going on in places like Ukraine and realizing they can make a difference.
“Local governments do have an impact. You can make a difference at a local level and make changes within your community, and certainly these new mayors understand that and bring fresh perspectives and solutions.”
Kubicar’s relatives have a legacy of involvement in local politics – currently, her stepfather, John Gunchuck, is president of the borough council, her husband, Michael Kubicar Jr., serves on council, and her mother, Susan Gunchuck, is judge of elections – which has earned the family the moniker “the Kennedys of Deemston Borough.”
Kubicar graduated with a degree in criminal justice and is a stay-at-home mom to her 4-year-old daughter, Caridee. She attends services every Sunday at East Bethlehem Baptist Church and helps plan church events and activities.
“For my daughter, I try to be the best role model. (Being mayor) is a pretty awesome opportunity, from that aspect,” said Kubicar. “I can show her I’m a woman who has gone to college, gotten a degree, got elected as mayor. I can show her that you can do anything you want to do, no matter how small or huge. She can make decisions to be what she wants to be.”
Weaver had no political experience before taking on her mayoral role, but she is equipped with a relentless work ethic and a sense of compassion for people that has led her to work at a lockdown mental health facility, where many of her patients are diagnosed with chronic mental health problems like bipolar disorder and severe depression.
“We’re with the same people all of the time, so it’s almost more of a personal relationship than the professional stuff,” said the soft-spoken Weaver. “We do a lot of therapeutic-based group activities, and if they need help they come to you. You see it all – it’s not uncommon for people to come after you – but you do have success stories now and then and that’s inspiring to see.”
Some biographical facts about Weaver: She worked three jobs throughout college, earning money to buy a new car and pay for her auto insurance, and graduating with high honors with a degree in social work. She lives with her parents on the family farm where she grew up (they raise a few beef cattle), was a member of the 4-H Club, and is enrolled in the masters of social work program at Cal U.
Both Kubicar and Weaver encountered some skepticism from voters about why they wanted to run for office, but support from family and friends gave them confidence to believe they could address municipal matters and make an impact.
“I came in as a young female and I think a lot of people, even council members initially, looked at it as a joke, like, ‘She’s here because it’s a title.’ Initially it seemed like people tried to talk over me, but I started to engage with them and they see I’m just as capable as them of making a decision,” said Weaver.
What she lacks in experience, Weaver makes up for in her diplomatic approach and willingness to collaborate. She enjoys discussion and, she said, “combining ideas to make decisions that are best for other people and the community.”
She wants more residents to attend borough council meetings to let council know what issues are important to them, and encourages residents to post on the Beallsville Borough Facebook page. Kubicar, too, started a Facebook page for Deemston Borough.
In her rare free moments, Weaver enjoys running and traveling, and she spends as much time as she can with her 2-year-old nephew.
Neither woman sees herself pursuing higher political office, but both plan to be effective for as long as they serve as mayors.
“We have very few major issues. Our borough community is a good community and we don’t have a lot of problems,” said Kubicar. “Not only is the land beautiful, but the people honestly are, too.”
Said Weaver, “I didn’t do this for me. I don’t really gain anything from being mayor. I did it because I care about my community.”