Back during the 1999 mayoral election season, I belonged to a group of powerful women who used to get together to try to influence the workings of the Philadelphia political scene.
We invited all of the mayoral candidates to come meet with us that year in person. It was the first time a group of women senior leaders had come together to let candidates know that women’s voices mattered, and that we wanted to have women in the political power arena. But even we were not able to bring about something Philadelphia lags far behind much of the country on: Electing a woman.
That year was the first time a woman, former City Councilperson Happy Fernandez, ever ran for mayor. The only other woman to run, in 2015, was former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who finished third among the six Democratic primary contenders.
Two women, among the hundreds of men who have vied for the job of chief executive of Philadelphia. No wonder all 99 of our mayors have been men.
You see women being elected to those positions all over the country … Why hasn’t this happened in Philadelphia? Why is that?
This year, though, we have an incredible opportunity. We have four impressive and accomplished women running for Mayor. Just look at their track records.
It’s impressive what former four-term City Councilperson Maria Quiñones Sánchez has accomplished, without the backing of the Democratic City Committee. [Full disclosure: I have publicly and financially supported Maria.] Former Councilperson Helen Gym has been the biggest vote-getter in the city. I mean, hello. I love former Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s business experience — she’s young, aggressive, zeroing in on budgetary issues that political people tend to not have enough grasp of. Cherelle Parker has been a strong leader and voice for communities on City Council for several years.
Any of these women would be impressive and qualified leaders of this city.
Philadelphia is a traditionally conservative town, and women have been slow to be admitted to the table. When I first moved here in the 1970s, it was known as a lawyer town. Rosemarie Greco was on her way to becoming the top female banker in the city, but there were not a lot of women leading things. However, having said that, I was fortunate to be supported here, to build my business, Diversified Search, the largest women-owned search firm in the world. It took 50 years, though.
I’m disappointed that the generation behind me and my generation hasn’t picked up the torch and carried it forward.
Just like in many cities, women ascending to positions of leadership in Philadelphia was ever so slow. Finally, it seems like things have started to change. In the last 10 years or so, women are ascending to positions of influence in business, politics, community. We now have more women representing us in Congress than in any other time in history, more women — including our own Rep. Joanna McClinton, the first Black woman to be Democratic Majority Leader — in the state legislature. Women hold several elected positions here in Philadelphia, including (until Rhynhart resigned) City Controller, Commissioner and Council people.
But the state of Pennsylvania has never had a woman as Governor, or as Senator. And Philadelphia has never had a woman as Mayor. You see women being elected to those positions all over the country. Arizona is now led by a woman, Gov. Katie Hobbs. Michigan has Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Arkansas has Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, just to name a few. And Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix, D.C. all have women mayors. Why hasn’t this happened in Philadelphia? Why is that?
I think part of it is that women are not speaking up. I’m disappointed that the generation behind me and my generation hasn’t picked up the torch and carried it forward. There is a whole new generation of powerful Philadelphia women, whose voices have to be heard. These are different times for women and for Philadelphia, and we have an opportunity to provide new proven leadership and innovation.
The good news is there are four women who are impressive candidates. The bad news is they may dilute their chances. Ideally, as time goes on and polls will be conducted, it will show who the trending few leaders are. Hopefully among those leaders will be women candidates — and the others can coalesce behind a leading woman.
The City of Sisterly Love is now ready for the first woman Mayor!
Judee von Seldeneck is founder and chair of Diversified Search Group.
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WOMEN CANDIDATES FOR MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA