CHATHAM – There's no disputing Shareen Davis' lineage.
A 13th generation Nickerson and a 10th generation Eldredge, she is descended from Mayflower passengers through her grandmother. She grew up in a fishing family, graduated from Chatham High School (Class of 1976), and for many years ran a trap fishing company with her husband Ernie Eldredge.
After volunteering in local organizations and on town committees for more than 40 years, she's decided the time is right to seek elective office. Last week Davis took out nomination papers to run for a three-year term on the board of selectmen. She will face incumbent Seth Taylor, another Chatham native whom she has known since childhood.
Davis, 58, said she's been considering a run for selectman for four or five years, and many people approached her about taking the plunge this year.
“For me the time was right,” she said. “I feel that there needs to be a more diverse conversation going on in town.”
Davis cites her experience in the fishing industry, as a downtown business owner, photographer and mother of two grown daughters as giving her perspective on many different aspects of the community. Through her own experiences and those of her daughters, for instance, she understands the need to create opportunities for young people, especially those who grew up here, to be able to buy a home and make a living in Chatham.
“We really need to support working folks,” she said.
Having been one herself, serving on the Chatham 300 committee and the charter review commission, Davis understands the importance of volunteers to town government. One of the board of selectmen's most important tasks, she said, is appointing fair-minded people to committees, boards and commissions.
“That to me is where you can really affect change,” she said.
While she is still formulating positions on many issues, she backs the current effort to pass federal legislation to set the western boundary of the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge at low water. She has shellfished extensively and her family's weir fishing grants are not far from the area of Nantucket Sound being claimed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She also has an understanding of how the process works; years ago she helped develop technical documents that were used to justify Army Corps of Engineers dredging of Aunt Lydia's Cove, which was eventually authorized through an act of Congress.
Having worked on the water, she is also keenly aware of water quality issues, in estuaries and the ocean. She is blunt about concerns over the growth of the seal population in Chatham waters, which she said is a health, safety and fisheries issue all rolled into one. While she's not certain what role the town could play, she said there needs to be a conversation about seals, understanding their impact on fishing, coastal water quality and the town's economy.
She also said the town needs to join those calling for the shutdown of the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, which she believes is unsafe. “We're not that far away” from the plant, she said.
Along her time on town committees, Davis served on the board of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association (now the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance), the Nereid Network and the Women of Fishing Families.
A long-time photographer, for seven years she was a partner in the Nickerson Gallery downtown, which she said gave her an understanding of the challenges facing the town's small businesses. High rents and a short season are difficult on local businesses of all kinds, from shop owners to landscapers, she said. She currently works with Watermark/Trap Dock Press providing desk top publishing, photography and editing services, and her photographs are on display at The Frying Pan Gallery in Wellfleet.
Growing up here, Davis was able to work summers and pay for school; her daughter Shannon paid for college clamming. The combination of tourist economy and rich natural resources are a major asset of Chatham.
“We have a wonderful community of natural resources and an economy that is dependent upon seasonality,” she said, and protecting that is important.
For decades Davis and her family worked out of the Eldredge Trap Dock on Stage Harbor, pursing the age-old system of weir fishing. Last year the town bought the dock for $1.5 million; the Eldredges leased it back and continue to operate the business while the town determines the future of the property. Her daughter and husband now run the business, in which she has no financial stake, she said.
“I might go down and pack fish once in a while, but I'm no longer involved in the financial side,” she said.
Davis said she's received positive reaction to her candidacy thus far; her announcement that she was running last week drew dozens of likes and comments on her Facebook page. She said her background and experience are different from Taylor's, providing voters with a clear choice.
“I think I'm well suited for the job,” she said. “It's not just my opportunity, it's an opportunity for people I want to listen to and understand.”
As of Tuesday, only Davis and Taylor had taken out papers for the single selectman's seat that will appear on the May 11 election ballot. Signed nomination papers must be filed with the town clerk's office by Thursday, March 23.