Combining Politics and Community

January 14, 2016 – by Lisa Lopez Snyder

OWU classes challenged Bridget Donnell Newton ’80 to think critically about the world, “outside of what the average 18- or 19-year-old thinks about.”

Bridget Donnell Newton ’80 recalls family dinners at her childhood home as a “very lively” time. “We were always having debates and discussions” about local and global issues, she says.

Newton, who double majored in history and politics and government, was inspired by her parents’ commitment to community. Her father is a retired Presbyterian minister and her mother was a community volunteer and a reading teacher. Newton got a touch of the political bug when as an OWU student she volunteered with the 1976-1977 state senate campaign of John Kasich, who was an administrative assistant to State Sen. Buz Lukens.

Inspired by the political process, Newton left for Washington, D.C., after graduation, her sights set on a career as a staff member conducting research.

She never imagined running for political office.

A marriage, two children, and some 25-plus years later, Newton is now recently re-elected mayor of Rockville, MD, a thriving and growing community of 64,000 in Montgomery County outside of Washington, DC. Newton and her husband have called Rockville home since 1982. She became involved in her children’s schools, and eventually served on city council.

“I still never thought about running for council until 2009,” she says. “I resisted, but in 2009, I was fed up with a few things and decided to put up or shut up and go on and do it.”

Motivated by competing interests concerning the city’s growth, she entered the mayoral race in 2013 and won; Newton takes office in 2016 with a resounding 65 percent of the vote.

She credits the many opportunities of her OWU education with preparing her for the rigors of politics—and life.OWU classes challenged her to think critically about the world, “outside of what the average 18- or 19-year-old thinks about,” she says.

Newton also credits her parents’ emphasis on the importance of making contributions to their community.

“All three of us—me, my sister and brother (Cal Donnell ’84)—were encouraged to follow our hearts, find a job we loved, and contribute to the greater good.”

While Rockville, the county seat, was recently named “Most Livable City” by livability.com, and is known for its diverse neighborhoods, small town atmosphere, and as a hub for biotech and cyber security firms, other issues confound residents. County-controlled schools, a fast-growing population, and disagreements on how to balance that growth with quality of life, have become hot-button topics.

Newton supports what she calls “managed growth,” and has worked hard to establish relationships with surrounding jurisdictions and regional stakeholders.

For certain, the next generation in the family is set to keep on that push for mutual understanding—Newton’s niece, Eilish Donnell ’16, a Delta Gamma like her aunt, is an OWU student.