As the May 21 L.A. city runoff elections draw nearer, there is a troubling anomaly that may be shaping up–the almost total absence of women in elected positions in municipal government. Add to that the total elimination of Black women in elected office.
At this point, there are only two slots left that women could potentially win, when voters go to the polls–L.A. city mayor and the seat for the 6th Council District.
In the race for mayor, former councilwoman and City Controller Wendy Greuel is battling a hotly contested match with Councilman Eric Garcetti.
In the 6th District, Fernando Guerra of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), believes the contest to fill the vacancy left when Tony Cardenas was elected to Congress may very well result in a woman being elected to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
The special election to fill the seat is also planned for May 21, with a runoff set for July, if one candidate does not receive 50 percent plus one vote.
“The two leading contenders are women, and all bets are that a woman will win,” said Guerra, who noted that at one time (1959) there were five women on the City Council.
“Some systematic obstacles have emerged that were not there before,” said Guerra about why the number of women in elected office within the city has plummeted.
“The problem with getting women electing is getting women to run; you can’t be elected if you’re not a candidate,” Guerra pointed out. He also noted the problem of the pipeline. They need to be in positions like chief of staff to other elected officials or policy wonks. Women are underrepresented in these positions.
Guerra said there is also the idea of where women seem to feel most comfortable–school boards.
“Women care more about education and are willing to put themselves forward on that issues. And then there is the electorate; they find an education is the issues where you have more compassion, concerns and they are more likely for women, because they associate themselves with those characteristics.
Former Los Angeles County Supervisor and Congresswoman Yvonne Burke points to another obstacle that often stops women.
“The amount of money being spent in these city election for City Council is astronomical,” she said. . . . “I think a lot of women would run, if they could get the backing and the financing.”
But Burke says women must be at the table because they tend to be interested in such issues as foster care, childcare, equity in terms of pay. They are concerned about consumer issues disproportionately simply because they are the ones who typically have to deal with consumer issues. They are concerned about health issues because in families the mothers often are the ones who have the primary responsibility for health issues.
Burke, like Guerra, says having a big enough pipeline may also be an issue.
“People who are groomed (to run for office) tend to be involved in campaigns. They are in positions of running campaigns for people in elected office. I had a lot of people who worked for me that have run for office–Carl Washington, Herb Wesson, Mike Davis; people in Ohio even.”
Burke notes that it is also incumbent on current elected officials to be secure enough and interested enough to groom the people who will take their place.