By Stephanie Bergman
ROCKPORT — Sandy Jacques, the selectman who said "why don't you get back in the kitchen" to Chairwoman Sarah Wilkinson following an argument before Town Meeting, has apologized to the 35-year-old mother of two — and she has accepted.
"He called me and apologized," Wilkinson confirmed Thursday. "I think the whole thing is over."
Wilkinson and Jacques said the apology took place over the phone last week, and its acceptance closes a contentious period that had set Jacques against the rest of the selectmen — at a time when he and Wilkinson are both seeking re-election next Tuesday.
"I am not a sexist, but the expression I used is," Jacques said. "This is not the way I live my life."
When initially confronted by his selectmen colleagues about the statement, Jacques maintained that he was upset when he said it but did not consider the statement to be unduly offensive.
Jacques, 71, initially compared telling Wilkinson to go back to the kitchen with the idea of telling Selectman Paul Murphy, who works as the assistant principal at Manchester Essex Regional High School, to go to the library.
During a public airing of the issue at an April 17 meeting, Jacques apologized only "that (Wilkinson's) feelings were hurt or whatever."
His second try, though, has been accepted and both Wilkinson and Jacques have said they believe the issue is resolved.
"We have a lot of business to attend to and now we can do that," Wilkinson said.
The outburst came while selectmen were preparing to go into the April 9 annual Town Meeting, in response to a disagreement over the Tool Company Task Force. Jacques had opposed the task force and reiterated his opposition before making the remark to Wilkinson.
At the next selectmen's meeting, the other selectmen told Jacques they believed his conduct was inappropriate.
Selectwoman Frances Fleming said she believed the remark was insulting to all women, and that it made her uncomfortable.
The comments acted as a catalyst for Wilhelmina Sheedy-Moores, who said she got into the race for selectman as a write-in candidate because of Jacques' comment. Before Sheedy-Moores decided to run as a write in, the selectman's race was uncontested, with Jacques and Wilkinson running for the only two seats.
When pressed as to what effect she thought the comments would have on the election, Wilkinson said she did not know.
"It's up to the voters to decide," she said.
Wilkinson said she wished the entire controversy had not happened, but said she does not regret filing a formal complaint with the other selectmen and insisting on an apology.
"If you don't challenge offensive things, they become accepted," said Wilkinson, adding that the controversy has brought a conversation about sexism in Rockport that is worth having.
"I was upset that we had to make a big deal of it," said Wilkinson.
Stephanie Bergman can contacted at 978-283-7000 x3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org