Role Call | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Role Call

If it's this easy to run for office, why don't more women do it?

On the surface, it seems that no matter who wins the various primary races being decided May 17, the old boys' network will come out ahead.



In the city of Pittsburgh, none of the seven Democrats running for mayor are women. Only three of 15 city council candidates are women, and two of them are running in the same district. Only two of nine school board members are women, a ratio unlikely to change this year. Things are worse on the county level: Only one of nine candidates for county council is a woman.


Oddly enough, though, that makes the old boys seem not powerful but a bit pathetic. Yeah, our political campaigns are male-dominated, but so are conventions of fez-wearing Shriners. You don't see many women in either situation, but that just calls attention to how silly the men look.


Take the mayor's race. The seven candidates in the Democratic primary prove that in Pittsburgh, anyone can get on a ballot. Four of the candidates have never held elected office; a couple haven't bothered to appear for televised debates and other forums. Yet they're invited just the same, and when they do show up, they're treated as equals. I suspect a female candidate would be taken at least as seriously as, say, Daniel Repovz. Repovz, in case you haven't heard, is a 22-year-old grad student whose only qualifications (according to his own answers to a League of Women Voters questionnaire) are his ability to "set realistic expections" and be "as honest and forthright as humanly possible." Yet there he was, being treated like an elder statesman on a KDKA-TV debate last weekend.


So why don't women take advantage of the platform?


The most obvious answer -- outright sexism -- may be less of a factor than you think. Reached by phone while canvassing for votes in Windgap, City Council candidate Erin Molchany says she often runs into age discrimination, Pittsburgh-style: She's just 27 years old. But, she says, "I've never encountered any gender discrimination. A lot of people are glad a woman is running." Often the only question that matters is "Where were you born and how long have you lived here?" Molchany says. "My position on Act 47 has never come up."


Another theory is that before they run for an office, women actually worry about whether they could do the job.


"Men say, 'That looks interesting; I think I can do that.' Women are more self-critical," says Kathryn Hens-Greco, who is seeking a post as a common pleas court judge. "A woman will say, 'Am I really the best qualified?'"


By rights, Hens-Greco shouldn't have to worry. She's "highly recommended" by the bar association and has worked in family law for nearly two decades. Perhaps most interestingly, she actually wants to work in the court's Family Division. Many other judges stay there just long enough to get shifted to the civil or criminal division, where they don't have to deal with ugly divorce proceedings. Hens-Greco will probably get the vote of everyone else running for judge: If she stays in Family Division, after all, some other judge won't have to.


She didn't, however, get one of seven Democratic Party endorsements for judge. Two other female judicial candidates, Wrenna Leigh Watson and Beth Lazzara, did get the party's nod, which isn't bad, considering there were only five women who were rated "qualified" or  better by the bar association. Then again, the party also endorsed City Controller Tom Flaherty for judge, even though he's never tried a case as a lawyer.


A double standard? Sure. But if Hens-Greco is right, women may have the biggest double standard of all: They expect themselves to have credentials, while -- in a bit of role-reversal -- male candidates are only supposed to look pretty and make pleasant conversation. It's working for Bob O'Connor, at least.


Of course, as Molchany says, "The time commitment in a campaign is huge, and I think that's daunting for women." After all, women are much more likely than men to have family obligations. But for women who want to raise issues without raising money or supporters, there's a simple solution: Run a grandstanding mayoral campaign in which you do TV apppearances and nothing else. Again, it works for the guys.


The problem, see, isn't just that politics here are so exclusive. It's also that they are nowhere near exclusive enough.

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