In a decisive victory last November, Shawyn Patterson-Howard became the first woman to be elected mayor of Mount Vernon and the first African American woman elected as mayor in the county’s history. And while Patterson-Howard acknowledges the ground-breaking nature of her win, she says, “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about ‘making history,’ because there is a big job ahead of us. I’m focused on making a difference in the community that I love.”
As a fourth-generation local, Patterson-Howard explains, “Mount Vernon is the community of my birth, my development, my education. It’s where I was nurtured and mentored by people of all ages and ethnicities, allowing me to become the adult and the leader that I am now.”
Patterson-Howard’s past leadership roles have included director of the Mount Vernon City Drug Court, executive director of the Mount Vernon YMCA, and president/CEO of the YMCA in Yonkers. Yet, despite her vast experience working to improve lives, Patterson-Howard says that she never intended to run for office. “I felt my work in public health, public safety, and neighborhood revitalization could be more impactful if I was not tied down to political or bureaucratic structures,” she explains.
Last year, however, Patterson-Howard knew she could no longer remain outside the (considerable) political fray. As readers might remember, Mount Vernon’s former mayor Richard Thomas was arrested for misappropriation of campaign funds and ousted by the city council in July 2019. He then refused to vacate the position, although former city council president Andre Wallace had been appointed interim mayor. A court ruling resolved the issue, naming Wallace the legal mayor in August. In November, Patterson-Howard defeated Wallace by a considerable margin. “I ran because I was frustrated,” she says, “because I felt the community deserved better.”
Patterson-Howard’s plans to meet the challenges facing Mount Vernon, which include “under-education and under-employment,” will largely focus on economic revitalization. First order of business, she says, will be “to put policies in place ensuring that developers and investors will know how to properly engage the city. We want to create a fair and transparent playing field.” But the economy is just one piece of a larger puzzle that will require multifaceted solutions, Patterson-Howard adds.
Drawing from her background, she hopes to connect local government, the nonprofit and business sectors, the faith-based community (she is an ordained minister), and neighborhood associations, to forge a better future for Mount Vernon. She sums up this unified approach with her favorite African proverb: “When spiderwebs unite, we can tie up a lion.”