The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: The Granite State's strong record of women in politics

I would say that New Hampshire has a pretty good record when it comes to voting women into higher office.

Just look at 2013, when the Granite State became the first state in the nation’s history to send an all-female delegation to Washington.

Allow me — for a moment — to step back in time. I was about 11 and the babysitter for my neighbor’s three adorable little daughters Leigh Ann, Laurie and Leslie. Their mom was Cynthia Sweeney, a former state representative who was also an election clerk in Nashua for 26 years. Mrs. Sweeney leaned very strongly to the left, and my conservative newspaper father was way over to the right.

Cynthia was quite a pistol, very active in politics and not afraid to put her neck out there. She was ahead of her time, raising her daughters on her own and also running a popular dance company out of her home. She would often offer advice to me about becoming a Democrat and blasting Republicans when she had the chance. It was all lighthearted, and she was friendly with my parents.

“Dad, Mrs. Sweeney said this about Pres. Nixon....”

“Well, you go back and remind her that it’s a Democratically-controlled Congress.”

Cynthia Sweeney knew that women could aspire to be anything they wanted to be, and the good old boys’ network wasn’t going to get in her way. That was back in the early 1970s, and I like to believe that folks in New Hampshire have always been progressive, respected women for the most part and have been out ahead of the country when it comes to women holding political power.

One only has to look at the recent victory of Manchester’s Joyce Craig, who defeated four-term incumbent Mayor Ted Gatsas, 53 percent to 47 percent. Craig will become the Queen City’s first woman to take the corner office.

Congratulations, Mayor-elect Craig.

That’s a big deal for Manchester and for women, and the same happened to my city in 2007.

Donnalee Lozeau, a third-generation Gate City native, was elected Nashua’s first female mayor.

I admire these strong, trailblazing women in New Hampshire’s two largest cities. Out of the 13 cities here in the state, Nashua and Manchester are the only two whose governments do not have the assistance of a city manager. That means a huge responsibility their mayors — whether male or female.

I think most readers would agree that running for office is not easy, and if you’re a woman you’re often judged by standards different than a man.

Studies have shown that women candidates are often viewed as being more honest and ethical than male candidates, but they still have to learn to walk a tightrope to get ahead in every other aspect of the job because voters seem to expect more from women. It can be a steeper climb.

Lozeau is currently executive director of Southern NH Services and prior to that was a state representative for 16 years. She served in the Gate City as mayor for eight years. She has always been dedicated to the world of public service, helping others find opportunity and giving back to her community. To her, it’s always been a noble endeavor as for many other women here who have jumped into the race for political office.

Mayor-elect Craig is the mother of two daughters and expressed to the Union Leader’s Paul Feely the significance of her win.

“It’s so nice every little girl in Manchester, or young woman here growing up, knows that this is an option available to them and that anything is possible.”

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at