Local kid makes good

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FAIR HAVEN — A Manchester native with a presidential pedigree was elected mayor of Fair Haven on Town Meeting Day.

Fair Haven voters elected a 3-year-old Nubian goat named Lincoln as the town's pet mayor in a close race, in which Lincoln edged a Samoyed dog named Sammie by two votes.

As any political candidate in Vermont will tell you, having several generations of roots in the Green Mountain State will provide a leg up in a local election.

But certainly being able to say you came from the home of the son of one of the United States' most popular presidents must carry some weight.

Lincoln was born at Hildene Farm and Goat Dairy, and staff there immediately recognized the new mayor.

"She stood out for those great ears of hers," said Paula Maynard, Hildene's press director.

Lincoln was known as Tammy Sue when she was just a kid at Hildene, after having been named after a worker there.

"Tammy, the woman she was originally named for, saw her on Facebook and knew it was Tammy Sue immediately," Maynard said.

According to Hildene's literature, Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, was a gentleman farmer, and his granddaughter, Peggy Beckwith, raised goats, sheep and cattle. Beckwith was the last family member to live at the estate.

Today, Hildene features a small herd of dairy goats, which are milked to make cheese that is sold in the welcome center. The Georgian revival mansion and its 412 acres feature a formal garden, museum, store and a 1903 Pullman car, Sunbeam. Robert Todd Lincoln, who built the estate at the turn of the 20th century, was general counsel and later president of the Pullman Car Company.

Just as high schools and colleges tout their alumni who go out in the world and accomplish great things, there was a buzz at Hildene last week as news spread that it was one of their goats that had been elected mayor.

Brian Keefe, who will take over Hildene's presidency Jan. 1, is currently the special assistant to the president.

Keefe drew parallels between the new mayor of Fair Haven and America's 16th president.

"Abraham Lincoln left Kentucky at an early age to enter politics in Illinois, so it is possible to leave home and succeed in a new town," Keefe said. "Also, President Lincoln's ears were thought to be inordinately large, which was sometimes considered a sign of superior intelligence. Or craftiness. Either way, we're happy for Lincoln's success."

Fair Haven teacher Christopher Stanton, who owns the yard where the new mayor lives, bought the two Nubians from Hildene. Stanton said his goat's ears stuck out and kind of reminded him of Lincoln, who is said to have had big ears, hence the name.

What started out as a fundraiser at the town offices suddenly turned into a lesson on civics for the students.

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"People took interest and participated," Gunter said. "It turned into a great little project of civic pride and a civic engagement project."

While the actual mayoral race couldn't actually be put on the ballot, it was offered to voters at the polls.

In all, 53 votes were cast for mayor from about a quarter of the nearly 400 voters who cast ballots.

Lincoln was elected to a one-year term and was sworn in Tuesday at the Select Board meeting. She's expected to be making appearances at public events throughout the year.

Lincoln's campaign got started innocently enough.

Fair Haven Town Manager Joe Gunter said he came up with the idea to hold a pet mayor race to help raise money to replace the playground behind the town elementary school.

Students paid $5 per entry to nominate a pet in the mayoral race and the political campaign drew 16 candidates, which is a great turnout in a small Vermont town. Or anywhere.

The vote has put Fair Haven in the headlines for something positive.

A year ago, the small Vermont town of 2,500 near the New York state line made headlines after an alleged school shooting plan was foiled at the local high school.

Last week, the town that bills itself as the "Slate Center of the Nation" for all the slate that is quarried in the area, found itself making headlines across the Internet.

The potential good from all that free press wasn't lost on Gunter.

"It's a fun thing," Gunter said. "We're getting a lot of miles out it. It's great."

Meanwhile, just 38 miles away, on the other side of the Taconic Mountains in Manchester, the stunning mayoral victory was also being celebrated.

For any other towns out there looking for new political leadership, Keefe points out there are currently more than two dozen pregnant Nubian does at Hildene and the first birth of the season is expected April 16.

Who knows how many future mayors may be born this spring.

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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