BARRE — With early voting just underway, this year’s race between Samn Stockwell and Ericka Reil will be an historical footnote in the Granite City no matter who Ward 3 voters elect to represent them on March 3.

This one is technically a rematch – Stockwell defeated Reil, 10-9, during a Ward 3 caucus in mid-December and has since filled the void created by John LePage’s unexpected resignation late last year.

Both women were nominated from the floor of the traditional town meeting-style caucus and are now running against each other in a first of its kind election in Barre. It’s one that required each to collect signatures so their names would appear on pre-printed ballots in a contest that will be decided by Ward 3 voters on Town Meeting Day.

Women have run and occasionally won City Council seats in Barre before before, though the list isn’t terribly long. Most have run unopposed – Sue Higby and Anita Chadderton are the most recent examples – and there has never been a race pitting one woman against another.

Welcome to 2020, and a “may the best woman win” contest that Reil decided to enter even before her one-vote caucus loss, with Stockwell following suit after settling into her council seat and deciding she is prepared to make a two-year commitment.

Ericka ReilEricka Reil is an advocate. It’s what she does for a living and it’s what the 42-year-old Bassett Street resident says she’ll do for Ward 3 voters if they elect her to represent them next month.

“There are so many silent voices in Barre and I want to be their voice,” says Reil, who has worked as a peer advocate for the Vermont Center for Independent Living since 2004.

A Montpelier native, Reil settled in Barre nearly two decades ago after briefly living in New York, Florida, New Hampshire and Maine.

Barre has long been home for Reil, her husband, Joe and their son, Will, who died two years ago due to a seizure-induced heart attack. He was 18, autistic and Reil has come to learn, better known in the community than his mother.

“I tell people I’m running and they say: ‘You’re Will’s mom,’” she says.

Reil says the frequent follow-up involves a question about whether she’ll be “… fighting for people with disabilities?”

The answer is an easy “yes,” for Reil, who has disabilities of her own and concerns that led to the creation more than a decade ago of a city committee that focuses on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Reil has served as the committee’s chairwoman since its inception in 2008, and pressed for everything from improved crosswalks to the accessible beach entry proposed as part of the planned upgrade to the municipal swimming pool.

“Inclusion means everything to me and its something I really fight for,” she says.

That mindset applies to older folks with wheelchairs and walkers to young moms pushing strollers.

“Accessibility is important,” she says.

Reil says she has a wealth of “lived experience,” passion and persistence – all qualities she believes will serve her well if elected.

“If people have an issue or a question I will find the answer,” vows the woman who freely concedes she doesn’t have all – or many – of them.

Reil is bullish on Barre’s future, eager to listen to residents who feel disconnected from city government and committed to bringing a deliberative approach to the council.

“I will look at an issue from all sides before I make a decision,” she says.

In addition service on the city’s ADA committee, Reil is a long-time member of the board of Disability Rights Vermont, as well as its Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness council. She also serves on the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force and recently joined the board of Another Way Community Center in Montpelier.

Samn StockwellSamn Stockwell wasn’t thinking about running for City Council before John LePage surrendered his Ward 3 seat in order tend to his chronically aching back.

That changed, Stockwell says, when she met with LePage and he urged her to consider filling his suddenly vacant seat.

“I’d never done anything like that before,” says the improbable “incumbent” in a race for a seat that is now hers to lose.

Barely eight weeks have passed since Stockwell’s one-vote win over Ericka Reil at the Ward 3 caucus on Dec. 19 but a lot has changed.

Stockwell, who was initially non-committal about the prospect of running for a two-year term on Town Meeting Day has since settled into her new role the 67-year-old Elliston Street woman is interested in keeping it.

Stockwell’s pitch to Ward 3 voters is simple.

“I’ll do my best to make things better,” Stockwell says.

“I’m committed, I’m hardworking, and I’m interested in how things work and how things could work better,” she adds.

Born in Connecticut, Stockwell has lived most of her life in New England. She settled in central Vermont in 1980 after graduating from Goddard College. Stockwell, who previously lived in Plainfield and Montpelier, moved to Barre three years ago.

Though Stockwell’s roots in Barre aren’t as deep as Reil’s, she says her past work with Head Start and Family Center of Washington County gave her some insight on a community she believes is “on the cusp of a renaissance.”

“It’s an exciting time,” she says, while vowing not to lose sight of those struggling to get by.

“I would like Barre … to be a place where people who are working for a living can succeed,” she says. “A place where they can afford a place to live and get ahead a little and contribute to the civic and cultural life of the city.”

Stockwell says she likes where Barre’s headed. The downtown has some solid building blocks – from Espresso Bueno and Next Chapter Bookstore to Studio Place Arts and Rise Up Bakery. She’d like to see some of the gaps filled in

Stockwell who first came to Vermont to attend college, is now teaching human services courses at Community College of Vermont, and says she appreciates the what a powerful positive thing a good education is.

When it comes to how the city operates Stockwell says she’s still learning – and listening – and, if elected would be an open-minded member of the council with a fresh perspective and an appreciation of history.

“I like Barre’s history,” she says. “It’s always been a place where the working class could succeed. They could come and they could make a living and they were appreciated for who they were. That just seems like a great past to build on.”

david.delcore @timesargus.com

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