The Shaws are Nashua’s new power couple

NASHUA – Last Wednesday, the wife and husband sat on separate benches in the aldermanic chamber.

She was with her Board of Education colleagues, second row from the front. He sat behind them with an aldermen’s agenda in his lap. He followed the proceedings knowing he soon will be casting votes on the Board of Aldermen.

The next night, Kim Shaw rushed out of the house for a 6 p.m. school board meeting while a chicken and potato dinner baked in the oven. Her husband, Rob, sat down with their two teenagers, Katie, 14, and David, 16, for another dinner without mom.

Before getting into her car, Kim threw out one last reminder to be on the lookout for Maggie, one of the family cats.

This is how things will go for the foreseeable future: one, or both, of the elder Shaws out the door to tend to the people’s business.

For the first time in recent memory, spouses will be public officials serving on two elected city panels at the same time.

Voters returned Kim Shaw to the Board of Education for another four years, as she topped the field of eight candidates. And they put Rob Shaw on the Board of Aldermen to represent Ward 9, choosing him over two others for the seat.

“We’re two separate individuals doing two separate jobs,” Kim says.Indeed, they say pillow talk won’t be about city business.

“A lot of times you ask me about the meeting, I don’t even want to talk about it,” Kim says to Rob, adding that she discovered the value of boundaries between being a board member, which can be all-consuming, and time at home, which is all about the family. (As a stay-at-home mom, she does her work for the board during the day.)

And Kim says she is a stickler for keeping confidential information private. She laughs aloud as she recites the I-could-tell-you-but-I-would-have-to-kill-you line.

“There’s an awful lot of things I don’t know what’s going on,” Rob says, adding that he relies on the newspaper to fill him in.

The city’s best known political power couple in recent years has been the Arels. Maurice Arel served as mayor from 1977-84, and his wife, Joyce, was elected to the school board in 1985 and later moved on to the Board of Aldermen, where she served until 1997. Her husband was a police commissioner during that time – an appointed, not elected, position.

Separate jobs

The Shaws are sitting at an island in the kitchen in the family’s comfortable home on Sweet William Circle. The dishwasher churns nearby.

Kim, 43, a quick-to-laugh mother of two, admits she considered a move to the Board of Aldermen. But with so much happening on the education front, she says she wanted to see those projects through.

“It just didn’t seem where my heart was this time,” she says of the Board of Aldermen.

Rob, who is 45, recalls talking about running with outgoing Ward 9 Alderman Scott Cote and others around Labor Day.

“It was something in the back of my mind. I really had a desire to step in,” he says about running for his first public office.

Although one of Rob Shaw’s opponents raised the possibility of a conflict of interest during the campaign, the two insist they are going to keep their positions separate.

In other words, they say people shouldn’t expect one to know what is going on in the other’s sphere of influence.

They have faced that sort of assumption before.

Rob, whose hair is becoming more salt than pepper, was president of the council at Christ the King Lutheran Church. Kim taught religious education, among other volunteer duties.

People assumed one could answer for the other, but they say it didn’t work that way at their church and it won’t for their board positions either.

“I’ll try and take a message,” Rob says about handling Kim’s responsibilities.

In fact, they are thinking about programming their home phone like an office phone: Press 1 to leave a message for the family, press 2 for education business, press 3 for aldermanic issues.

The two have been married for 19 years, but it would be a mistake to view them as operating in lockstep.

Kim agreed with a question on a survey sent before the election asking if the school board alone should be responsible for the school budget.

“No, but sorry,” Rob says.

“That was just the wrong answer,” says Kim, laughing.

Indeed, Rob is a Democrat and Kim is a Republican.

The two met at Penn State University when Rob was a graduate student in chemical engineering and Kim was working toward her bachelor’s degree.

Nashua was supposed to be a quick stop between California and returning to Pennsylvania – but it’s a dozen years later and they haven’t made it back to the Keystone State.

Public service was not something they stayed up late discussing when thinking about the future.

Kim got involved first when environmental problems roiled New Searles Elementary School in the 1990s. That led to a stint as the vice president of the school’s PTO (“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she jokes about never becoming the president.)

The family dining room still looks like a campaign war room, with papers, political buttons and other campaign detritus filling every space.

They are trying to look optimistically at their meeting schedules. Kim’s big meeting night is Monday. Aldermen generally meet on Tuesdays. And the committee meetings pile up during the rest of the week.

But a quick handoff as one steps in the door and the other is out the door will be nothing new.

At one time, Kim took evening education classes and Rob was responsible for the bedtime routine.

“That was really good for all of us,” he says.

And daughter Katie says having a parent out for the night is familiar for her. Over the last four years, Kim expected to be out of the house as many as four nights a week.

“It’s not like it’s all of a sudden,” says Katie, a ninth-grader, sitting at the family computer.

David, a high school sophomore, echoes the sentiment. A parent is always in reach by cell phone, he says.

Being responsible for two active teens might be the hardest juggling act of all.

“There’s an awful lot of logistics, which is one of the trickiest things,” Rob says, adding, “We got somewhat used to juggling schedules.”