Alumna takes helm as mayor of hometown during pandemic

Kassandra Gove says her master's in higher ed administration has helped her lead Amesbury, MA, during COVID-19

Kassandra Gove, ’09 higher education administration, knows her educational background doesn’t immediately say “elect me as your mayor.”

Yet, last year she was elected the fifth mayor of her hometown of Amesbury — population 17,000 — about 40 miles north of Boston on the coast of Massachusetts. She is the first Amesbury native elected to the office, as well as the first woman and the youngest person. 

“I have had an unusual career path,” says Gove, who came to the University of South Carolina’s higher education master’s program with a bachelor’s degree in dance education from Jacksonville University in Florida. “I had no interest in politics, no experience in politics, no one in my family had been in politics.”

She got interested when she was working at the local chamber of commerce. She heard from business owners and prospective businesses looking to relocate to the town how difficult it was to get through red tape at City Hall. So she decided to run and now she is at the helm of the former mill town during the worst public health crisis in 100 years.

“We have some high numbers,” Gove says of the more than 150 COVID-19 cases reported for her town, where many residents commute to Boston every day for work. “There’s sort of a ripple effect from our urban areas.”

Among the city’s 500 employees, only one — a firefighter — has been diagnosed and he was caught by a temperature screening before he went into a city building. “We have some pretty rigorous screening protocols in place,” she says, adding that the firefighter has fully recovered. 

It has been interesting to see how quickly we modernized the delivery of services. We’ve been able to do a lot of things online and remotely.

Kassandra Gove, '09 master's in higher ed administration and mayor of Amesbury, Massachusetts

Gove credits some of the things she learned at UofSC for helping her navigate the waters of small-town politics, especially the “Trends in Higher Education” class taught by Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs and vice provost.

“He said ‘You can choose to be an expert in one thing or know a little bit about a lot of things,’ ” Gove recalled. “I chose knowing a little bit about a lot of things. When somebody calls the mayor, it’s a last resort, a cry for help. You have to know who to send them to for help.”

Pruitt also told his class that he reads the student newspaper every night before he goes to bed so he knows what’s coming in the morning.

“As soon as I can each day, I read our local newspaper so I am prepared,” she says.

She also learned about dealing with a constituency when she worked at the UofSC Alumni Association and about community expectations when she worked in Residential Life and the Office of Judicial Affairs, now called the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.

“I learned about how to be part of a community and what happens when you don’t act appropriately,” Gove says. “My alumni association internship shaped my approach to community building.

“All those things prepared me for what I do now,” Gove says. “I have carried all of that with me.”

While Gove had very little time as mayor before the pandemic, she says she doesn’t think that experience would have been of much use as the world will likely settle on a “new normal” after the pandemic.

“A lot of people are saying it will never be ‘normal’ again,” Gove says. “But nobody is knocking on the door at City Hall saying they can’t get things done.

“It has been interesting to see how quickly we modernized the delivery of services. We’ve been able to do a lot of things online and remotely.”

Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about