Linda Abbott took Gilbert by surprise March 13, when voters swept her into office with an overwhelming majority of votes.
The Mesquite High School history and government teacher known for taking an outspoken stand on issues won more votes than the three Town Council incumbents who retained their seats.
Some voters point to Abbott as a new voice on the council who has a philosophy similar to current Town Council members — but who may also have something different to offer.
“I voted for her because, and I don’t mind saying, I thought that first of all we need more women in our political atmosphere,” voter Elizabeth Damian said. Abbott, a former town councilwoman from 1991 to 1995, has experience, but enough distance to see public needs, Damian added.
“She has the chance to be more outspoken, to be more able to see the need, and maybe venture to try new things.”
While Abbott does align herself with current council members, she said when she joins them on June 4, she plans to review proposals that affect the town’s economic prosperity and buildout with a critical eye.
She wants to review the economic feasibility of the town running a future equestrian and multipurpose center. She also wants to investigate whether the town can take steps to help about 30 homeowners associations with the costly repair of private roads. And, she said, she wants to ensure south Gilbert is represented by the historically north-Gilbert focused council.
Abbott said her active nature in the community and belief in “a purpose-driven life” may have spread her name recognition.
“I’m always very active in believing one person can make a difference, and that people should work for change,” Abbott said.
Raised by military parents who at one point were stationed in Tokyo during the Vietnam War, Abbott primarily attended parochial schools, and one message scrawled in her high school yearbook speaks to her lifelong interest in speaking out: “Linda, how many petitions did we sign that you circulated during high school?”
As a teacher and a volunteer, she helps with town and school-related organizations. A Republican, she has served on the Islands Elementary School PTA, was co-founder of Gilbert Leadership, is a member of the East Valley League of Women Voters, and parishioner at St. Anne Catholic Church.
As community chairwoman of the Gilbert Public Safety Memorial committee, Abbott on Thursday helped prepare a fundraiser at Gilbert’s new SanTan Village 16 Harkins theater that raised about $15,000 for the memorial honoring fallen Gilbert police officer Rob Targosz, who was killed by a suspected drunken driver.
Abbott first became involved in Gilbert politics in 1989 after she watched a neighbor’s home burn to the ground, and waited 15 minutes for firefighters to respond — with limited resources.
“We waited patiently while this fire was really accelerating and lapping onto other homes,” Abbott said.
Her husband, Tom Abbott, was a firefighter then and is now a battalion chief for the Tempe Fire Department, and Abbott said she was outraged about the firefighters’ limited resources and worried because she had an infant and toddler at home. She joined a contingent of residents and town officials who advocated for a town fire department.
In 1991, she was elected to her first term on the Town Council, and helped create the Gilbert Fire Department.
Her help in fighting for the fire department is a reason she cites for being a strong opponent to providing fire coverage to unincorporated residents.
Abbott has butted heads with county island residents who oppose annexation to get town fire services, and was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that last year killed a law that would have forced the town to provide service to county island residents for a fee.
Voter Bobbi Smith said Abbott’s support of county island residents’ right to annex gained her vote.
“She’s very intelligent, articulate, passionate woman,” Smith said. “I think that’s why the numbers added up in the election.”