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Why Miriam Aschkenasy is leaving the Select Board

Miriam Aschkenasy, center, at the Select Board meeting on Jan. 23 with fellow board member Mike Sandman, left, and Town Administrator Chas Carey, right. Photo by Artemisia Luk
January 23, 2024

Miriam Aschkenasy, a member of the town’s Select Board, recently announced that she is stepping down from her position in May, at the end of her first term.

Aschkenasy, a progressive who is widely viewed as the furthest left member of the board ideologically, plans to run instead for a seat on the School Committee.

In an interview, Aschkenasy cited several factors that led to her decision, including the tenor of civic discourse, the competing demands of her full-time job and the isolation she felt when she became the board’s only female member.

Aschkenasy said she experienced abuse from members of the public, whom, she said, verbally attacked her family and were “just mean and rude and unkind” during her tenure in office.

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“That is in fact how people treat you as a Select Board member,” Aschkenasy said. “I think there’s this lack of grace that everybody deserves. People can express their dissatisfaction, their disagreement, without insults.”

Aschkenasy, who has a full-time job leading an anti-racism program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, also noted the pressures of the 20-plus hours a week she spent on Select Board business. She is also a single parent of two school-aged children. With a $3,500 annual stipend, service on the board is essentially a volunteer position.

“It is really a lot of hours,” said Aschkenasy, adding that she sometimes has to take time off work to deal with her Select Board responsibilities. “And if you really want to do this job well, there’s also a level of emotional investment. You don’t want somebody in this position who isn’t emotionally invested.”

Being the only woman on the board, as she has been since board chair Heather Hamilton stepped down in February 2023, also took a toll, Aschkenasy said.

“When Heather left, I didn’t realize how much I appreciated having Heather, and how much interference Heather ran,” Aschkenasy said. The job “is in fact very much extra exhausting as a woman,” she said.

“I get gaslit at much higher levels, or my work gets completely erased,” she said. “It is an absolutely difficult position.”

Despite her frustrations with serving on the board, Aschkenasy said there are a number of accomplishments she’s proud of.

Among those are hiring town leaders such as Town Administrator Chas Carey and Public Health Director Sigalle Reiss, advocating for expanded parental leave for town employees, and working on the rezoning of Harvard Street, which she called “the first step to equity in a town like ours.”

She ran in the first place for Select Board, she said, because “I love this town, and I want to make it a better place. Not just for my family and my kids, but for everybody who lives here.”