Bethesda resident, council staffer wins NOW election
O'Neill gives up her job with Trachtenberg this week
For the next four years, Bethesda resident Terry O'Neill will lead the nation's largest feminist organization, giving up her position at the County Council in exchange for leading the organization toward more grass-roots advocacy.
O'Neill, who is currently chief of staff to Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg, was elected president of the National Organization for Women during the organization's annual convention over the weekend in Indianapolis.
O'Neill defeated Washington resident and New York City native Latifa Lyles for the position. She replaces outgoing and term-limited president Kim Gandy, a Silver Spring resident, who has served in the position for eight years.
Gandy was unavailable for comment by press time.
In the months leading up to the election, much had been made about the differences in O'Neill, 56, an older white activist and longtime NOW member, and Lyles, 33, a black NOW executive member, who was seen as pushing for change in the organization.
Despite the differences, both O'Neill and Lyles supported the grass-roots, community advocacy important to the organization.
"If we don't have grass-roots, we don't have NOW," O'Neill said in an interview with The Gazette two days before the election. "I built a team based on skill sets — women who will be able to get back in the street and hugely increase our membership numbers."
O'Neill headed a four-member platform, called "Feminist Leadership NOW," composed of women from around the country. She and her other incoming executive members — Illinois resident and executive vice president Bonnie Grabenhofer, action vice president Erin Matson from Minnesota and Maryland resident and membership vice president Allendra Letsom — take office July 21.
O'Neill will have to give up her position as Trachtenberg's chief of staff because the NOW position is full time.
"My advice to Terry would be to do what she does best: work her hardest to bring everyone together," said Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda, who met with O'Neill for lunch Tuesday. "We have an unprecedented level of poverty among women now, and it will be important to bring women on all levels together to deal with this issue."
During Tuesday morning's council session, council President Philip M. Andrews recognized O'Neill, who plans to clean out her council desk on Wednesday, as a county leader.
"We can all say we knew her when," said Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
Trachtenberg has named William Klein as acting chief of staff. Klein had been Trachtenberg's press agent.
A farewell reception in O'Neill's honor is planned at the council office on Thursday.