By Stephen J. Kotz
Ann Welker, who wears many hats as a swimming, stand-up paddleboard and yoga instructor, as well as an exercise physiologist, made history on November 7 when she became the first woman to be elected a Southampton Town Trustee in that body’s 331-year history. Ms. Welker, 54, discusses her unlikely candidacy, what her victory means for other women and what she hopes to accomplish in her new position.
You were the first woman to be elected Southampton Town Trustee in more than three centuries. What does that mean to you?
It’s not about me. It’s so much bigger than me. I think it’s about the mom who texted me to tell me, ‘I brought my 12-year-old daughter into the voting booth with me.’ It’s about another woman said to me, ‘Maybe because you’ve done this other women will do it now.’ I really think people voted for me because they were ready for change.
I would never say I would be the first woman elected when I was running. Other people would say it. My opinion — my perspective — is not necessarily right. It’s just another perspective and it’s important that it’s heard.
Rather than bringing the whole gender thing into it I tried to say it was important that the Trustees be the stewards of the environment, and that they be the voice of environmental leadership, and that Mother Nature doesn’t have a party. We, as Republicans, Democrats, Greens, need to work together to solve these problems.
You are a political novice. What is your background and what convinced you to run for Trustee?
The reason my family is here is because Southampton College opened. My father, Ral Welker, was a marine ecologist who helped get the marine sciences program up and running. I remember a day in the mid-‘80s when he came home, just distraught. That was when the Brown Tide first appeared. I grew up on the beach at Flying Point, so I’ve always had an interest in the local environment.
It took me about four months to decide to run. I got an email in March from somebody saying, ’I think you should run for Southampton Town Trustee. I think you’d be good at it.’ It wasn’t on my radar. It took a lot of nudging.
But there were two things that directly led to my decision. I teach swimming and I went to Big Fresh Pond awhile back and there was a sign saying ‘no swimming’ because of high bacteria counts. Then more recently, I went to Mecox to paddle board and there was a sign there saying I couldn’t go in because of blue-green algae.
What will be your first order of business as a Trustee?
It was a bold move for voters to elect me, and they don’t want me to be silent, but I do have to sit and listen and learn. I have to be a sponge because I’m not coming in with a background in this. But I’m willing to learn so I can become a contributing member.
I know water quality is going to be my focus, but I don’t know what path it’s going to take. I don’t know if it going to be rain gardens, or developing a maintenance schedule for the cleaning of catch basins, or if it is going to be going after runoff, or going after fertilizers and pesticides, or replacing septic systems, or if it will be all of that.
What are your long-term goals?
Our problems didn’t happen overnight, and it’s going to take time to turn the ship around. I don’t think ‘baby steps’ are the right words, but we need manageable goals going forward. I can’t do this alone. A five-member board can’t do this alone. It’s going to take all of us deciding to create a new narrative for our environment.
I don’t want to give up hope. I want to be able to go swimming in Big Fresh Pond or paddle boarding in Mecox or driving on the beach, if I want to. I want to be able to go clamming — and eat them. The environment and traditions of this place need to be protected and preserved.