With the Democrats seizing control of Congress
in Tuesday's election, many Republicans are concerned that
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is poised to become the
speaker of the House of Representatives in January.
That the concern is about her politics, and not
her gender, is a welcome sign of how much things have changed
in recent decades, albeit slowly.
As the first female speaker of the House, Pelosi
will be as close to the U.S. presidency as any woman ever has.
The speaker is second in the line of presidential succession,
behind the vice president.
It's been more than two decades since Geraldine
Ferraro was the first — and only — woman to run on a
presidential ticket, when she was the Democratic nominee for
The growing acceptance of women as elected
leaders is hard to deny when U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are both seen as top
choices for their party's 2008 presidential nomination. But
Pelosi, Clinton and Rice continue to be the exception, rather
than the rule.
Actually, the U.S. lags other nations, such as
Chile, German, Liberia and Jamaica, which have all sworn in
women as heads of their federal governments, in the past year
In New York, the percentage of women in local
government office is still short of their proportion in the
overall population, according to a recent study from the Susan
B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of
Rochester. The survey focused on representation in county
legislatures and city councils in the state's five largest
cities. The small number of women serving in elected office is
virtually unchanged from the last report in 2002, though
Dutchess County fared better than others.
Ten of the 25 county legislators in Dutchess are
women, the highest percentage in the state, while only seven
out of 33 in Ulster are women. The average for counties
outside of New York City is 17 percent. In the mid-Hudson
Valley, the female legislators are just about equally split
between Republicans and Democrats, so this problem is not
exclusive to one party.
There are resources available to help women
already in office, or interested in running. The Susan B.
Anthony Center is planning a policy summit for women
officeholders next spring. The White House Project, a New
York-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit group, also works to
advance women into elected leadership positions.
Nora Bredes, director of the Anthony center,
said if women can reach a "critical mass" in office, she
believes they can help change politics that are too often
focused on personal ambition, instead of serving the public
But it's up to local political party committees
to do a better job recruiting female — and, for that matter,
minority — candidates. Doing so will not only result in a
government that better reflects the community it hopes to
represent. It's necessary if these parties hope to remain
relevant in an increasingly diverse region, state and