Women candidates need to step up to the plate

Women candidates need to step up to the plate

Women candidates need to step up to the plate
December 30, 2015

We are at a critical juncture in New York's feminist movement.

With yet another woman departing the New York City Council this month, female representation in the 51-member body has hit a new low of only 14 legislators. In 2017, five of these women are term-limited, and we face a real possibility that women in this legislative body may dip to single digits. In recent weeks, politicians and advocates have rightly called this imbalance a “crisis” and “embarrassment.”

There are plenty of reasons why these numbers are so out of whack. Our political system favors the powerful, particularly incumbents, most of whom are men. It includes a burdensome petitioning process, which severely restricts ballot access, and a highly technical campaign culture that requires access to skilled field and data operatives to truly compete. And while the city's campaign finance program is a great equalizer for fundraising, it does nothing for a candidate’s personal finances, depriving voters of countless quality candidates whose families can’t afford a missed paycheck.

These are just some of the factors that deprive our electorate of quality candidates with the life experience to find solutions to the city’s major policy challenges.

As Gloria Steinem wrote in 2008, "this country can no longer afford to choose our leaders from a talent pool limited by sex, race, money, powerful fathers and paper degrees."

Until that changes, the surest way to provide voters their right to a real democracy, with quality candidates, competitive elections and vigorous debate, is for any woman who is able, to get to work.

To would-be women candidates: make no mistake, our city desperately needs you, your voice, and your talent. To the women in a position to help: these candidates need you to act.

Six months ago, I called every progressive official and organization with a record of speaking out against the gender imbalance in government.

I sought support for my own City Council campaign, but mainly advice and encouragement. Like so many women candidates, I faced truly tough odds. I had raised the money, secured endorsements, and was vocal on our shared policy positions.

Almost no one lived up to her talking points. In fact, a handful never even returned my phone call.

This time around, we must do better.

Women in leadership are again voicing strong support for those of us who feel isolated on the front lines. Their exhilarating message to prospective female candidates is that you can, because the cavalry has arrived. My message to you is this: you must, even if it hasn’t.

Under the current system, by circumstance of geography or access, too many women will never even have the chance to run for office. And in our increasingly unaffordable city, without equal pay and paid family leave, even more women cannot afford the time or cost of candidacy.

It's a lot to ask, but you won’t be alone. For me, I had Assembly member Nily Rozic and the Eleanor’s Legacy Campaign Committee, supporting me from the very beginning of my campaign through primary night. And in our corner were a small but committed corps of fierce feminists from throughout my district, city and state government, and the labor movement.

A political campaign is physically draining and emotionally tough. Very few people have the guts to do it. In fact, many of the city’s elected officials have never chosen or needed to run a competitive campaign.

Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury. You must run, in spite of the difficulties, because there are so many women – in your district, in elected office, and throughout history – who are counting on your bravery.

The road to City Hall is especially steep for women. And so to present and future candidates, we are grateful for your courage. You've done the hard part and risen to the challenge, now it's our turn to rise to meet you.

 

Rebecca Lynch is a former Queens City Council candidate and assistant Commissioner for the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.

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Rebecca Lynch
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