She was Binghamton’s first female mayor — sort of


Gerald Smith, Correspondent
Published 6:00 a.m. ET Aug. 10, 2017

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Images from the area’s history.
Keith Kraska / staff video

In this year of the centennial of New York’s passage of suffrage for women in 1917, it seems only appropriate that we talk about Binghamton’s first woman mayor.

As many of you are aware, I was first appointed as Binghamton city historian in 1984 — the year we celebrated the sesquicentennial of Binghamton as a village. I was appointed by Juanita Crabb to the honorific title (there is no salary, oh well), to serve the people of the community, protect our history and promote our heritage. This I have been doing for the past 33 years!

I was happy as a young man to have been appointed by Binghamton’s first woman mayor. Or was she? It is true that she was the first elected female mayor of the city, just as Marian Corino was the first woman elected as mayor of the Village of Endicott. Yet, there was actually one who served in that same office before Juanita Crabb — Elayne Keane.

What, you have never heard of her? Well, you should have, as she was a significant force in the changing political world of the 1960s. Her husband, Daniel Keane, was City Court judge and councilman for the Third Ward of the city. When her husband died in 1960, Elayne Keane was appointed to complete his term. Thus, she became the first woman to serve on Binghamton’s City Council. She was then elected to her own two-year terms in 1964 and 1966. Elayne Keane would become president of the City Council in 1969.

During this time, Elayne Keane kept her family together at 10 Lincoln Ave., while she also was a teacher. She taught for many years — first at the original East Junior High School, and then at North High School (now East Middle School).

While busy in the classroom, with her family and attending to city business from her district, Elayne Keane also became the city’s first female mayor. OK, that is not quite accurate. She actually became Binghamton’s first female acting mayor.

In the beginning of September 1966, Mayor Joseph W. Esworthy decided to take a two-week vacation. Nothing that unusual, except that city requirements indicated that there would have to be an acting mayor in case any city business that would require action. That person, to cover part of the mayor’s vacation, was none other than Elayne Keane.

In fact, during that short amount of time, she represented the City of Binghamton at the New York State Exposition in Syracuse in the Women’s Building on the state fairgrounds. She met several officials in that capacity, including the assistant state commissioner of agriculture and markets.

The newspaper, while covering the story, included what we would now consider a rather sexist picture, showing Keane outside of the mayor’s office door applying makeup. Nevertheless, she represented the city with honor and distinction, just as she did on City Council and in the classroom.

In 1982, she ran for the Broome County Legislature, but her campaign was unsuccessful. Two years later, in 1984, she retired from her many years in the classroom. Despite her years in the area, in her later years, she resettled in Plano, Texas.

It was there that Elayne M. Keane passed away on March 5, 1993. The accolades came from a variety of sources, including some from both sides of the political aisle. James Lee, the superintendent of Binghamton City School District, described her as a “fair-minded public servant who was dedicated to her community and students.” To those of us who have worked as one of those public servants, there can be no higher praise.

Her entire career was noteworthy, and she carved out new avenues for other women to follow in the local political world. It may have been 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the state, but it always amazes me how many of the things that we now take for granted — such as elected officials that represent all types of our population — are still relatively recent changes to the political spectrum. So, kudos to Elayne Keane and her trailblazing life.

Gerald Smith is the Broome County historian. Email him at historysmiths@stny.rr.com.

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