BELCHERTOWN – Mary Olberding worked for the
Obama-for-president campaign in 2008 and the David
Sullivan for Northwestern District Attorney campaign in
She said she would have gladly joined the
Elizabeth Warren for Senate campaign but she latched onto
another campaign instead.
That other campaign is Olberding for
Hampshire County Register of Deeds 2012.
Olberding, 44, has been active in politics previously, but,
with the exception of her service on the Belchertown finance
committee, being a candidate herself is something new.
She credits EmergeMassachusetts, a Boston-based organization
that prepares women for political careers,
with giving her that little push to toss her own hat into the
“It gave me the confidence that the transition from being
woman on a campaign to being a woman candidate was
not that big of a leap,” she said.
Emerge Massachusetts is a political leadership training
program for women across the state. It is a part of a national
organization, Emerge America, and each seeks to address
the under-representation of women at all levels of elected
Though women make up slightly more than half the
population, the 93 women in the U.S. House and Senate
make up about 17 percent of the 535 total members of Congress.
In Massachusetts, the ratio is a little better. Thirty-eight
percent of the 160 state representatives and 11 of 40 state
senators are women, or about 23 percent overall.
EmergeMassachusetts Executive Director Judy Neufeld
cautions that both the state and national Emerge organizations
are partisan. The goal is to recruit, train and encourage
Democratic women to run for political office, she said.
“We look for leaders in the community,” she said.
Over six months, Emerge provides training on topics
that are integral to being a successful candidate, including
public speaking, fund raising, working the media and
meeting the general public, seeking endorsements, ethics and campaign strategy.
The cost is $500.
In five years, EmergeMassachusetts has graduated 74
women. Fifteen have run for office and eight have been
elected, including Holyoke atlarge City Councilor Rebecca
Lisi, a member of the 2008 class.
The most recent graduates, the class of 2011, had 23 members,
but only two, Olberding and Ayanna Crawford, of
Springfield, were from Western Massachusetts.
Crawford could not be reached for comment.
Olberding, who was selected to be a speaker at the Dec. 3
commencement ceremony in Boston, said her only regret
about the program was that it ended too quickly.
“I was one of the people who was hoping it could be
longer,” she said.
“It was pretty intensive, but it was all good.”
The training covered subjects big and small, from fund
raising and networking to having a proper headshot
available for the press.
Olberding said she also valued the built-in mentoring
component, where women going through the program
are introduced to women who have successfully run for office.
She met U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, the only
woman in the Massachusetts delegation, and her group one
night got to meet Rep. Jen Benson, D-Lunenberg, over
Olberding said the dinner gave her a chance to ask Benson,
the mother of three children, about balancing
campaigning and kids.
Neufeld said the organization is looking to expand to offer
additional programs and even refresher training for graduates.
“We are feeding the pipeline with Democratic women who
are looking to run. Over the next five years, we
have to look at how we can support them at all parts of the
pipeline,” she said. “Maybe we won’t just have Politics 101.
Maybe we’ll do Politics 201.”
Olberding said she made an impulse decision to sign up
after hearing representatives give a presentation at last
year’s state Democratic Convention.
Until then, she had never thought of running for office.
She has a master’s degree, has been active in her community
and managed a business, but “I just assumed someone
else was better qualified.”
Originally, she thought of running for the Belchertown
Board of Selectmen. But then longtime Register of Deeds
Marianna L. Donohue retired in September. The post is
filled on an interim basis by Patricia A. Plaza of Westhampton,
who has said she will not run for the permanent post.
So far, Northampton City Treasurer George R. Zimmerman
is the only other announced candidate. Olberding
said she was able to draw on the confidence given her by
launch her campaign.
Women who run for office, she said, sometimes have to
defend themselves in a way male candidates never do
against the A-word: ambitious.
Olberding said there is nothing wrong with a female
candidate having ambition.
“We’re not ambitious for ourselves; we’re ambitious
about improving the community in which we live,” she
said. “That’s not a bad thing