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Why don't women want to be mayor? Why would they?

A bumper crop of male mayoral candidates points up a mystery of Seattle politics: With so many other trailblazers, why don't we have any more women mayors?
Bertha Landes, trailblazer or dead-end pioneer in a dead-end job?

Bertha Landes, trailblazer or dead-end pioneer in a dead-end job? Seattle Municipal Archives

Sen. Patty Murray is a leader of the congressional Super Committee on the budget.

Sen. Patty Murray is a leader of the congressional Super Committee on the budget.

Jan Drago while a city councilmember (Seattle City Council)

Jan Drago while a city councilmember (Seattle City Council)

In one sense, this year’s mayoral race has a bumper crop of candidates. Three apparent heavy hitters — city councilmembers Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell and ex-councilmember Peter Steinbrueck— have already put in to challenge Mayor Mike McGinn. After a rocky start and some learning on the job, McGinn himself is on the ascent.

Compare all that to four years ago, when Steinbrueck and Burgess shied away from running. Veteran councilmember Jan Drago did put in, but, while she might have been the one most fun to have a beer with, in larger forums she came off as dry and dour and a Nickels clone on policy. Snowstorm follies, neighborhood resentments and his aloof image made Nickels surprisingly vulnerable. Both washed out in the primary, and two neophytes, McGinn and cellphone executive Joe Malahan, contested the general.

The prospects seem better this time for a real debate about the city’s state and fate. But given how strong and long the candidate list is, one absence is still glaring — not only in the current candidate roster but in the annals of mayors past: Where are the women?

Ninety-one years ago, Seattle became the first big American city to elect a woman mayor — Bertha Landes, a good-government crusader who lasted just two years before the good ol’ boys nudged her out and resumed business as usual. Since then, women have scarcely run for, much less won, the seat; Drago and current dark-horse candidate Kate Martin are exceptions that prove the rule.

That pattern also puzzled Jim Brunner, who wrote about it in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Brunner notes the absence not just of women but of nonwhite men in Seattle’s top post. But the picture’s more complicated than that. Seattle and Washington have actually been pioneers in electing both women and minorities to top positions. In 1854 the territorial legislature failed by just one vote to grant women the vote. In 1910 Washington finally corrected that failing, becoming the fifth state to approve women’s suffrage.

In 1922, Seattle elected two women, Landes and Kathryn Miracle, to its council. In 1962 it elected Wing Luke, the first Chinese American elected to win a major political post in the 49 mainland states. Luke,a vigorous, widely popular figure, was no token; until his untimely death in 1965, he was bruited for the mayor’s office and Congress. Other trailblazers followed: Sam Smith, an African American, and Liem Tuai on the city council, and Ruby Chow at King County. Norm Rice and Ron Sims were the first African Americans elected chief executives of, respectively, a large city and big county with relatively small black populations. Gary Locke was the first Asian American governor on the mainland and the first Chinese American governor in all 50 states.

Women occupied a majority of Seattle City Council seats through most of the 1990s, peaking at seven out of nine in 1994-95. Several emerged as mayoral prospects but declined to run, until Drago’s belated bid in 2009.

So what’s kept women from seeking Seattle’s top civic post? Brunner cites an American University study on gender and attitudes toward office-seeking. It found that women were more prone than men to question their own qualifications and less prone to take the plunge anyway. Brunner paraphrases one of the study’s authors as saying they might be “more attracted to legislative positions that involve collaboration and coalition building” rather than go-it-alone executive posts such as mayor.

That hypothesis sounds plausible, and it’s bolstered by the stats. Twenty-four percent of state legislators nationwide and 30 percent in Washington are women, as are 20 percent of U.S. senators and nearly 18 percent of house members. By contrast, only 12 of the 100 largest U.S. cities have woman mayors. The two largest, Houston and Fort Worth, are both in that progressive bastion, Texas, and Dallas and San Antonio have also had woman mayors, making Seattle look all the more retrograde.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 8:59 a.m. Inappropriate

I nominate McGinn’s budget director Beth Goldberg to be a mayoral candidate. The city’s budget isn’t in bad shape. Goldberg was a long-time King County staffer with responsibilities for economic forecasting. Also, Seattle residents voted her on to the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority Board, so she’s a proven vote-getter.

crossrip

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 8 p.m. Inappropriate

Why on Earth would we want a mayor who understood how to manage the city's budget, understood how to manage people and had a record of getting things done?

WSDW

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

Don't forget that Councilmembers Jane Noland and Cheryl Chow ran for mayor in 1997 and Councilmember Dolores Sibonga ran in 1989.

Mannix

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

One might argue that descriptions like "dry and dour" have an impact on women's interest in running for office.

MissRuby

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Councilmembers Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills may have set the 'cause' back by a few election cycles.

animalal

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Your list of blacks overlooks Sherry Harris—black, gay, and female. And while we are on the subjects of gender and better things to do, that list in the paper of all the words no longer PC overlooks the very word that is the cause of it all "wo-men."

I assume this is because doing so reveals the silliness of attacking any and all words with "men" attached to the end, generally meaning "human," as opposed to "machine." It makes sense to make a new habit of using equally explanatory, more inclusionary substitutes, but stretching the point stretches the point, e.g. "female" includes babies and children, thus we'd come up with "female adults." Surely we have a lot more important things in need of immediate attention, e.g. the many current forms of actual slavery, human and environmental degeneration due to industrialized foods....

afreeman

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 3:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Who cares? We may only be represented by individuals of the same race/ethnicity, and gender, right? So, with the new politics of gender/racial identity, there is no way I vote for a white woman, or a black woman, or a "hispanic" white woman. I used to vote basec upon qualification; but that is old fashioned, I guess.

jhande

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 5:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Why don't I give my 77 cents on the male dollar to Crosscut?

Some theories:

A. Because women reporters are still segregated to Crosscut's softer Arts/Diversions sections and occasional guest pieces, just like in good old 1913.

B. Because Crosscut's male reporters seem okay with "mansplaining" things rather than double and triple checking their facts like a woman reporter must? For example: Maria Cantwell didn't hutzpah (read: casting couch) her way to the US Senate, buddy. She was a state legislator first.

C. Because every once in a while Erica Barnett at Publicola casts her scathing gaze in Crosscut's direction and reminds me that women won't always have to put up with this crap. See e.g. http://seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/oobt-for-feb-5

D. All of the above.

Posted Tue, Feb 5, 8:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I know everything should be womansplaining things. Women this and women that. Yuppie women make less than non-yuppie men. Cry, cry, cry for the poor women. I sincerely doubt that you make less than a man for doing the same job. Where do you get this seventy seven cents figure, anyway? Not the advocacy group, but the actual study with the methodology. What do you think about the UW having women students admitted at a higher number than their percentage of the population? I know, if it is women it is right, it would only be bad if it were men admitted in a higher percentage than women, right? We are all tired of whiny women.

jhande

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Maria Cantwell didn't hutzpah (read: casting couch) her way to the US Senate, buddy. She was a state legislator first.

She may not have spread her legs, but she did perform a fundamentally unlawful and unethical act to get the financial and political support of the state Democrats for her campaign for Congress. She was a co-sponsor of SB 2610 in 1992:

http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/1991-92/Htm/Bill%20Reports/Senate/2610-S.SBR.htm

That bill became the enabling legislation for Sound Transit. The state legislature’s delegation of policy-setting powers to the appointive board of that municipality via those statutes violated a 14th Amendment limit on its powers, one described by the US Supreme Court in a 1967 opinion. The abusive financing practices and excessive taxing the political appointees on that board engage in were designed to increase the power of the D’s while harming the financial interests of families and individuals here for decades.

Maria Cantwell disregarded a limit on the state’s powers imposed by the federal constitution to protect vulnerable people here in order to gain political and financial support for the next step in her career. Contrary to what you’ve posted, she certainly did slut her way up to Congress.

crossrip

Posted Thu, Feb 7, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Checking a few facts. Crosscut's new editor in chief, Mary Bruno, and associate editor Berit Anderson are both women, and that's two of the three top editors. You might ask Judy Lightfoot, Alison Krupnick, Stacy Solie, Alice Kaderlan, Tina Podlodowski and others about how "soft" their articles are.

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 8:20 a.m. Inappropriate

It's easier to run for, get elected and serve in the U.S. Congress than it is to be a big-city mayor? And that's why we have more women serving Congress from Washington State than we have women running for Mayor of Seattle?

Now I've heard it all.

Way too many men writing for Crosscut and it shows.

westello

Posted Wed, Feb 6, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

That information came from the American University Report,named in the eigth paragraph of the article; so I don't know if the writers at Crosscut were the researchers at American University; but I doubt it.

Usually you seem careful to read the articles carefully. So, is this the way women attempt to get their way, whining about men? And overlooking parts of the article that don't fit some anti-men statement?

Many of my women friends from high school, who scored much lower than me on the SAT, had lower class ranking, and lower GPA received scholarships, and personal recruitment from the University. I did not. They got that because of their sex, because they were women. They had less merit than myself (at least as far as grades and scores)and got a free ride. I didn't.

Then in work life, once again less qualified women are hired with less experience than needed for the job; because the business wanted to hire women, so as not to appear discriminatory. That, of course, put more of the workload on me. Then of course, when I would press the woman to do her share, I was a "sexist", and "sexually harassing" her.

The women I have been around receive special treatment, and better treatment than men in the workplace. I have been the individual discriminated against for reason of gender.

Anyway, I do not make a big deal out of it; but when I hear women complaining about how tough it is for them, it kind of pisses me off. How much more special treatment is enough for women?

You immediately posted a comment against this site, and I guess men, while the substance of your comment was incorrect (American University). You immediately wanted to go after men. Why?

jhande

Posted Wed, Mar 6, 9:53 a.m. Inappropriate

How can Crosscut seriously write that Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell had the sense and chutzpah to skip lower jobs and head for the big show??

Murray started on a school board, then went to the state senate before going to DC.

Cantwell started by campaigning for a local library, went to Olympia as a state rep, then Congress, and eventually the US Senate.

Crosscut's fact checkers apparently don't even read Wikipedia.

abelenky

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