In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election last year, Nicole Klein felt “helpless and hopeless.”
The Westport resident could not understand how America had chosen such a man as its leader.
“I’m a very positive person,” Klein says. “But I became very negative.” She vowed to do something to change her state of mind.
The New York City native had spent 17 years at McKinsey; now she was global event manager. In April 2014 she, her husband Fred and young son Carter had moved to Westport from the city, for the schools and amenities.
In the past, Klein had volunteered for presidential campaigns. But she had never — not in New York, or her new hometown — been involved in local politics.
Now was the time.
She quit her high-powered job. In March, Klein became deputy registrar of voters.
Working in Town Hall, she learned the ins and outs of Westport government. The Representative Town Meeting intrigued her.
“RTM had just been an acronym to me,” she says. “But I realized how important it is. It’s Westport’s legislative branch.”
When 2 members of her Greens Farms district decided not to run for re-election — and Klein realized there were no “moms,” or even any females — representing District 5, she threw her hat in the ring.
She knew nothing about campaigning. Friends offered advice: Go to the train station. Go to the transfer station. Make signs.
It was a very competitive race. In 8 of Westport’s 9 districts, 4 or 5 candidates vied for 4 seats. District 5 had 8.
“People made websites, brochures, mailings and signs,” Klein says. “There was a lot of canvassing.”
The 1st-time candidate faced hurdles. A random draw placed her name at the bottom of the ballot.
Because election season is the busiest time of year for the registrars’ staff, she could not campaign for herself on that crucial Election Day. Fortunately, an “amazing team” — including her husband and son — stepped in.
Oh, yeah: Just a few days before the election, the Kleins moved from their rented condo into a new home.
“There was a lot going on,” Klein says understatedly.
With over 1,900 voters to reach, she focused on the population she felt she could best impact: the school community. “I hoped people were excited about a mom running,” she says.
They were. Klein earned the 2nd highest number of votes in District 5.
It took a while before she learned the news, though. She was so busy at Town Hall, she could not immediately check the text her husband sent from the Greens Farms Elementary School polling place, with the results.
As an unknown quantity in a heavily contested race, lacking name recognition, Klein had steeled her son for the possibility of defeat.
“I told Carter the important thing was to get involved, go for it and try your best,” she recalls. “I told him I would still be committed, win or lose.”
During the campaign, Klein surprised herself by realizing how much she wanted to win. The closer Election Day loomed, the more she hoped she could serve.
Now she looks forward to learning even more about how Westport works — and about how to help her district. She has heard constituents’ concerns about high-speed trains coming through the Greens Farms station, maintaining the stellar school system, and the financial stability of the town. She is not afraid to asks questions, and learn more.
Klein knows a handful of RTM members, current and new. She is excited to meet her colleagues — “a great group, with a fantastic influx of new people.”
The other day, a League of Women Voters member asked Klein to serve coffee at tonight’s swearing-in ceremony for Westport elected officials (7:30 p.m., Town Hall).
Klein had to say no. She’ll be busy taking the oath of office herself.