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Former Cambria County native continues making a difference

Heather S. DeWees (right), Clerk of Circuit Court, administers the oath of office for Mayor of Sykesville to Stacy Link. Link is formerly of Chest Springs and is the first female to hold the position in the town’s history. Courtesy photo

A former Cambria County woman who won the right to play on a boys Little League team when she was 9 is now serving as the first woman mayor and first gay mayor of Sykesville, Maryland.

Whether she is restoring her 125-year-old home and carriage house or overcoming voter apathy, Stacy Link has a reputation for success.

Her cousin, Nichole (Link) Tewell of Duncansville, said that when she found out Link was running for mayor against a longtime incumbent, she had no doubts Link would succeed.

“Not for one second did I doubt she would win. I knew she would win. If Stacy’s focused on something and wants something and it’s important, she will make it happen,” Tewell said. “She moved to a town where she’s not a local, she’s a woman, a gay woman, and look at all the things she’s been able to do. It’s a statement of who she is. She’s always been that way. She likes to make a difference.”

Link opted to oppose longtime conservative incumbent mayor Ian Shaw rather than seek a third term on town council.

“I was risking my seat at the table by running for mayor. I felt there was much more I could do and accomplish (as mayor),” Link said.

Named the “Coolest Small Town in America” in 2016, Sykesville, in Carroll County, Maryland, is 20 miles west of Baltimore and 40 miles north of Washington, D.C. It has a population of 4,436, according to the 2010 census.

Link is the third female mayor in Carroll County.

She undertook an extensive door-to-door campaign with twin goals of winning and increasing voter turnout. She and her supporters accomplished both. Voters turned out in historic numbers and Link won 111 votes more than the incumbent opponent. The final tally, 519 for Link and 408 for Shaw.

“We engaged inactive voters. Voters turned out. That’s 33% greater numbers on May 4 than they did four years ago,” Link said. “It was about making neighbors aware of what is going on in the community — they should know how their tax dollars are being spent and have a say in what services are provided. They should know my phone number and my email address and that’s been lacking.”

A self-described environmentalist and conservationist, Link, who drives a 2016 hybrid car, has been a highly visible community member for years, said Julie Della-Maria, executive director of the Downtown Sykesville Connection, an economic development organization. Link led a grassroots campaign for a Main Street Association in 2011 that later became The Downtown Sykesville Connection.

“Stacy had already been carrying the effort for so long. She knows what is the right way to engage people and demonstrates such leadership,” Della-Maria said. “With a leader like her, the sky’s the limit. She has a vision that completely embraces our mission to improve the quality of life of residents and visitors alike. Her leadership is so inclusive. She doesn’t see limits and takes no sides. She won because of leadership.”

Lifelong friend and former St. Benedict resident Maxine (Cavallo) Gesualidi, who lives in the Philadelphia area, credited their mutual upbringing in rural Cambria County for her success.

“(Link) has this sense of justice, fairness, grittiness and perseverance that came from where we lived. She sees the value in everyone,” Gesualidi said.

They learned to care for others, such as bringing a casserole to a neighbor during a family illness or death.

“You don’t see that in the bigger communities, but we’ve taken that with us.”

Link said she learned from her parents to anticipate a neighbor’s need — without being asked. Her parents, Regis and Polli, still live in Chest Springs.

Her father recalled his daughter’s birth.

“The doctor said to us, ‘She will be different and she will make a difference.’ I don’t know how he knew that. Stacy was very bright, alert and outgoing right from the beginning.”

Regis Link still becomes emotional when talking about the couple’s decision to pursue a sexual discrimination suit against the Patton Little League in the mid-1980s.

“It was my first awareness of being vulnerable to other people’s control,” Stacy Link said. “And, how (being female) might be used to keep me from what I wanted to accomplish.”

The legal action, Regis Link said, came after efforts to resolve the dispute locally failed.

“I had to support my daughter. She was good enough to play and she wanted to play,” he said. “I created a lot of hard feelings and it was difficult but it eventually worked out. She went to college and played softball and did well.”

While Link won the legal right to play on the all-male team, she opted for girls softball.

“I’m thankful I got turned away. It has built the foundation of who I am. I do not like being told no. If you give me a reason and it’s not a good one, I’ll prove you wrong.”

At first, Mayor Link said she didn’t want to win just because she was a woman. But in talking to voters she realized constituents — especially the fathers of daughters — wanted her to win so their daughters had a positive role model.

Shortly after the election, a Sykesville family told her she inspired them to vote after 25 years of apathy.

“They made it a family affair and the daughter said she was so excited that she got to vote for the first female mayor on her very first ballot she cast,” Link said. “That took me back to being 9 years old. I didn’t have anyone like me to look up to back then. Of all the things that people have shared with me, that’s what makes the greatest sense. Young girls need a positive role model.”

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