After a dozen years at the helm of the Vermont Progressive Party, chairwoman Martha Abbott (pictured at right) says she's stepping down to pave the way for younger leaders.
"Twelve years is plenty long enough," the Underhill resident says. "Fortunately we have some wonderful young people who've gotten involved in the party, have a lot of ideas and have a lot of abilities — and we're very excited about that."
One of them is former Burlington city councilor Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, who plans to run for Abbott's position at the party's state convention on November 9. A labor organizer for the Vermont-National Education Association, Mulvaney-Stanak left the council in April 2012 when she moved to Winooski.
"When I was thinking about what my next move was in politics, this seemed to be a good fit," she says.
If elected, Mulvaney-Stanak (pictured at left) says she hopes to broaden the party's ranks and increase its representation in local and state government.
"One big piece is mobilizing more young people and women in particular to get engaged in the party and to run for office. It's a real passion of mine," she says. "The second [priority] is to build the capacity of the party."
In addition to serving on the Burlington City Council, Mulvaney-Stanak says she's been "heavily involved" in local and state Progressive campaigns for years, including that of "another Stanak who ran recently." That would be her father, Ed Stanak, who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general last year as a Progressive.
Abbott says she's been looking to step down from the post for two years, but until Mulvaney-Stanak expressed interest, "nobody really stepped forward."
"I strongly encouraged Emma to run," Abbott says. "I think she's got the right combination of abilities and I think she'd be a great chair of the party."
According to the party's executive director and sole employee, Robert Millar, Mulvaney-Stanak is the only person who has expressed interest in running thus far, though others could emerge.
Abbott's lengthy tenure as party chief is atypical in Vermont politics. Most of those who've recently chaired the state's Democratic and Republican parties have lasted little more than a two-year election cycle.
"I've outlasted four or five of them from each party, I think," Abbott says.
In that time, she says, "Our impact in the legislature has been huge — way beyond our numbers. I think we did a tremendous amount moving issues forward, holding other politicians' feet to the fire... When we popularize an idea, eventually another party will pick it up and move it forward. We're about the issues, so when that happens we win."
Abbott has tried unsuccessfully to win statewide office several times since she first ran for governor on the Liberty-Union Party line in 1974. In recent years — including last year, when she briefly made a bid for the governor's office — Abbott has put her name on the ballot solely to prevent others from hijacking the party's nomination. She says she has no plans to run again, though she's not ruling it out.
Instead of leading the party, Abbott says she hopes to concentrate on fundraising, an area in which the Progressive Party has trailed the Vermont Democratic Party.
"Politics is a fundraising world," she says. "For your voice to be heard, you need to have a reasonable amount of resources to get your voice out there."
Photos of Abbott and Mulvaney-Stanak courtesy of the Vermont Progressive Party and Mulvaney-Stanak.