By PHOEBE SMITH • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN — When Hanna Bergene decided to run for a village trustee position and Jim Dean
announced he would step down to make way for her, it inadvertently led to a local first: a female majority board of trustees.
Cooperstown Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh, who was first elected in 2018, and is the second female mayor of the village, Deputy Mayor Cindy Falk and trustees Bergene and Jeanne Dewey hold four of the seven votes on the local board, although with all seven members being part of the Democratic Party, there are not many political or ideological differences being debated in the village.
Instead, the four women are a majority part of Cooperstown’s expansive investments and infrastructure projects, working to shape the village for the 21st century and helping it get past the economic damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the four members are alike in gender, they range in age, experience and expertise. Bergene is in her late 20s; the other women all have adult children. Such diversity, in their eyes, symbolizes the board as a whole, what makes them successful and what they collectively hope to achieve in the future, they said in separate interviews in July.
Tillapaugh’s election to the board in 2011 makes her the veteran of the quartet, while Bergene’s election this year has cast her temporarily as the neophyte. “At the same time, I also think the diversity of ages on the board right now is really critical,” Tillapaugh said.
When Tillapaugh succeeded Jeff Katz as mayor, she appointed Dewey to her vacant trustee seat. Dewey chairs the Parks Committee and serves on the Safety Committee.
“Ellen and Cindy are such strong leaders, and they have been great mentors,” Dewey said. “Now that Hanna is also on the board, it is just really exciting to have four women.”
Falk, who chairs both the Streets and Buildings and the Economic Development committees, has been on the board for nine years, succeeding Tillapaugh as deputy mayor.
“You don’t have to go back too far and look at the pictures and see an entirely male board,” she said.
Falk said she initially worried maybe the women would not get respect from everyone in the village, but her concerns were quickly alleviated.
“The village has such a fantastic staff and group of volunteers, there was something in the back of
my mind that, maybe as women, despite the fact that we’re in the majority of positions, (maybe we might not) have enough weight, but everyone in our offices and all of our employees have been really receptive.”
Tillapaugh said the village has had unprecedented economic growth since she joined the board. Now with four women on the board, they all said they hope their legacy will be not just the diversity they have brought to Cooperstown. To a person, they said they hope they can make the village a better place and they can help it continue its recent economic growth and continue to rebuild and replace its aging infrastructure.
And that, thankfully, is a task that everyone in the village agrees on, Tillapaugh said, regardless of gender.
“I had never thought about it (being a majority women board),” because, “We do outnumber them, but I will say that I think everybody is a contributing member to the board.”