University of Rochester

New York Women Lag in Leading Local Governments

October 10, 2002

ROCHESTER, N.Y.-While women make up 52.7 percent of the New York state voting population, they hold just 17.8 percent of elected legislative and council seats in local county and city governments, according to a survey by The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester.

Only one woman holds the post of county executive in New York state. In addition, 41 of the state's 57 counties, where the legislatures average 15 seats, have three or fewer women serving. None of the five largest cities in the state has a woman mayor.

The findings in "Where are the Women? A Report on the Status of Women in New York's Local Governments, October 2002" will be presented by Nora Bredes, director of The Anthony Center and former Suffolk County legislator, as part of a program on Friday, Oct. 11, exploring how women lead and use power in business, politics, government, and the community.

"There are many questions to ask about the low percentage of women elected to local office," said Bredes, noting that though women make up 13.6 percent of the U.S. Congress and 21.3 percent of the New York state legislature, the demands of running for state or national office may be barriers for women. "In local politics, issues like raising huge amounts of money, arranging for child care, or working in distant capitals may not be the hurdles they are when women run for higher office. If these practical concerns aren't the barriers to women's participation, what are they? Perhaps our deeply held attitudes about politics and the masculine, self-promoting behaviors we expect in politicians keep many women from imagining roles for themselves as elected leaders."

The study notes that even the five most populous counties in New York state, with a slightly higher percentage of female representation, lag in comparison to Florida, where counties have similar roles and structures. Of the 100 legislators in the counties of New York, Erie, Monroe, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester, only 23 percent are women.

In Florida, the counties of Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Pinellas have 43 commissioners; 22 of them, or 51 percent, are women. Within New York state, five counties-Cayuga, Franklin, Madison, Steuben, and Warren-have no women serving on their legislatures. Kathleen M. Jimino in Rensselaer County is the only woman elected to the post of county executive.

The counties with the highest percent of female legislators are Schuyler, at 37.5 percent; Tompkins, 33.3 percent; Albany and Greene, 30.7 percent each; and Clinton, 30 percent. Overall, women account for 16.6 percent of the state's 996 county legislators.

Women fare better in representation on the councils of the five largest cities in the state, where they occupy 29 percent of the seats. The Syracuse Common Council has the largest percentage of women serving, at 40 percent; 33 percent of Rochester's city council are women; in Albany, it's 31 percent; followed by Buffalo at 30 percent and New York City at 25 percent.

"This survey establishes a baseline for continued study of gender balance in New York's local governments," said Bredes. "The center will conduct future surveys to examine the rate of growth of women's participation in local elected offices."

The survey was prepared by Bredes with the help of Diana Brauner, a senior studying political science at the University of Rochester.

The Anthony Center, founded in 1995 to honor the legacy of suffragist Susan B. Anthony, sponsors programs and collaborates with other women-related groups on issues of leadership and policy change for women.