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News   Monday, November 27, 2006

County gets ‘C+' for women in government

By JOE PARMON-Telegram Staff Writer
Published: Monday, November 13, 2006 2:53 PM CST
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HERKIMER - Herkimer County has earned a grade of “C-plus” for the number of women serving in elected office in county government, according to a report card issued by The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester.

The grade actually stacks up favorably compared to other counties, the majority of which received grades of either “Unsatisfactory” or “F.”

The grades were based on a survey comparing the number of women in local elected offices in 2002 and 2006. While women make up 52.7 percent of the state voting population, they hold just 17.4 percent of the seats in the 57 county legislatures outside of New York City, an increase of only .8 percent from a figure of 16.6 percent in 2002. Herkimer County saw an increase from 17.65 percent of women in county government in 2000 to 23.5 percent in 2006.

Of the 17 members of the Herkimer County Legislature, four are women - Claudine Grande of Herkimer, Mildred Wheeler of Herkimer, Jean Maneen of Ilion, and Dolores Walawender of Herkimer.

“Women still have not reached ‘critical mass' in local governments,” said Nora Bredes, director of the Anthony Center. “Research in sociology and political science shows that when groups reach 35 percent representation, they support each others' beliefs and values and can affect change. In government, women's ‘critical mass' can change the substance and style of political work and turn increased attention to such issues as domestic violence, child protective services, foster care, health care, and women's poverty.”

Women made progress in leadership positions over the past four years, noted Bredes. The number of women county executives increased from one in 2002 to three in 2006, while two more women have been elected as presidents or presiding officers of their county legislatures, bringing the total to six. Meanwhile, four out of the five cities in the survey have women serving as president or speaker of their city councils.

In a new measure of leadership for 2006, the Anthony Center found that 11 counties have elected women to serve as district attorney, a critical law enforcement role.

In the spring, the Anthony Center will hold its second policy summit for women holding offices in county and city governments across New York state. The first conference, in November 2004, brought 75 women to Rochester to attend two days of workshops and panels by public and policy experts and business and community leaders.

“By coming together, elected women get a strong sense of their ‘critical' mass and how they can address issues that are important to the lives of families in their communities,” said Bredes. “Chile's new female president, Michelle Bachelet, has filled half of the posts of ministers, under-secretaries, and regional government officials with women, saying that ‘when there are few women in politics, politics changes women, but when there are many women, it is politics that change.”


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