The Next Mayor of the City of Chicago Will Be. . .

        An African-American Woman, the First in the history of Chicago, a city where minorities are in the majority and one-third of the population is black. The election is not until Tuesday, April 2nd, but the two candidates who are in the run-off are both African American Women, so the outcome is assured. The winner will not be the First Woman mayor of Chicago. That was Jane Byrne in 1979, when few women had been mayors of major-size cities.

        The two final candidates are Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.

        Lori Lightfoot’s parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, but her mother pushed her to attend college and not let her background stand in her way. She graduated from the University of Michigan with honors and worked as a legislative aide for two years in Washington, D.C. She returned to her hometown to attend the University of Chicago Law School. While there, she led a movement to have a law firm banned from campus recruitment because their representative had made racist and sexist remarks directed toward a student.

        She clerked at the Michigan Supreme Court and became an Assistant United States Attorney. During her time at Assistant Attorney she participated in Operation Silver Shovel, an FBI investigation into Chicago corruption. She chaired the Police Accountability Task Force and is President of the Chicago Police Board.

      Toni Preckwinkle got her first taste of politics while in high school, volunteering for Katie McWatt, the first African American woman to run for Chicago City Council. She obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago then taught history for ten years, losing one of her students to gun violence. She has campaigned for handgun legislation and has taken strong stances against police brutality.

        She served as an Alderman on the Chicago City Council for twenty years. In 2010 she became the First African American Woman to serve as Cook County Board President, managing the second-largest county in the United States. She is also chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Stay tuned. . .

Women in Western Washington Politics

Is a new day dawning? At least on the Left Coast? Women in Western Washington have reached another rung on the ladder that leads to full parity in our legislative bodies. They are running in greater numbers for local offices and, in some cases in this past election, the final two candidates for some Washington positions were both women.

One example is Seattle. As I reported in August, the two candidates for mayor were both women, so Seattle was certain to have its first woman mayor since the mid 1920’s. Jenny Durkan, the new mayor, campaigned as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney.

In Everett, just north of Seattle, there are also two women running for mayor, after beating the incumbent in the primary election. They are currently deadlocked with only a handful of votes separating them. Unlike Seattle, Everett has never had a woman mayor.

Further south, just before the Oregon border, in Vancouver, Washington, Anne McEnerny-Ogle beat four men in the primary. After the current mayor dropped out, she was the only candidate remaining. Vancouver will have its first woman mayor since before the Civil War, when the city was founded.

Tacoma, Washington, a city near the capital city of Olympia, already has a woman mayor. In fact, if you travel the I-5 corridor (running from Bellingham in the north, to Vancouver in the south), there are eighteen cities with women mayors. For the whole state, there are more than thirty.

Just one step down from mayor are the city council seats. In Burien, just south of Seattle, women already hold the majority of city council seats. Seattle will follow suit with women holding six of the nine council seats. Women are running for these seats in greater numbers, as they are for seats in the state legislature.

Western states like Washington were on the forefront of granting women the right to vote, even before the Nineteenth Amendment clarified that right for every American woman. It is not surprising that they would also be on the forefront of electing women to office. A few years back, Washington had two women Senators and a woman Governor at the same time, the first and only state to do so.

Emily’s List (Emily means “Early Money is Like Yeast”) encourages women to run for office and helps raise funds for them. Last year 900 women indicated they were interested in running. This year 20,500 women contacted Emily’s List. It seems women are storming the castle. The ladder is braced against the castle walls. Hopefully, it won’t be long before women vault over the ramparts.


Women in a Local Election

The State of Washington held a primary election a week ago and, although the results are not finalized, there are some things we do know about an unusual race in Seattle. Although we live across the lake from Seattle and cannot vote in Seattle, we follow their news and are encouraged by this past election. It is a harbinger of changing times, an optimistic demonstration of the power of women.

The Seattle election was a bit of a mishmash as the current mayor announced he would not run for re-election very late in the race. As a result, there were 21 entries in the race, including another former mayor. Six were women and four of those women were the top four vote-getters. The woman in the lead, Jenny Durkan, won over 30% of the vote, in spite of the large field, and the top four women combined received 73% of the vote.

Since the top two in the primary go forward for the general election, we know that the next mayor of Seattle will be a woman. She will not be the First Woman mayor of Seattle, however. The last, and first, was in 1926, almost a century ago.

The best word to describe Bertha Landes, the First Woman mayor of a major city in the United States, is “colorful.” Seattle still had the feel of a frontier town when Bertha Landes’ impressive success in hosting a conference for Washington manufacturers led to praise from the president of the Chamber of Commerce and appointment by the mayor to a commission to study unemployment. The only woman on the commission, she received enough notice to win election to the City Council. During two of her four years, she was Council President. When Seattle’s mayor traveled to the Democratic National Convention, Landes became acting mayor. She immediately fired the police chief for corruption in his department, insubordination to her, and failure to enforce prohibition. Notified by telegram, the elected mayor returned early and reinstated the police chief.

Encouraged by those in the community who wanted to clean up the town, Landes was persuaded to run for Mayor of Seattle. She promised “municipal housekeeping,” her term for cleaning up city government, and she beat the incumbent. During her term, she worked to eliminate bootlegging and widespread corruption in the city. She ran a scandal-free administration, appointed professionals to head city departments, and made appointments based on merit. She improved public transportation, parks, and traffic safety. She converted the street railway system to a profitable enterprise and straightened out the finances of the city.

When she ran for re-election, a dark horse candidate beat her, largely by campaigning that a frontier town needed male leadership. Seattle is no longer a frontier town but one of the fastest-growing and technologically-sophisticated cities in the country. The two leading candidates for mayor this year are an attorney and an urban planner, both with a better sense of what is possible and reasonable than Mayor Landes. Hopefully though, Landes’ ability to accomplish her agenda will inspire the winner to push through the complications of democratic governance in Seattle and, with visionary leadership, accomplish great things. Bertha Landes will be a good model.

Sharon Pratt – Mayor of Washington, D.C.

SHARON PRATT          “Divisiveness has no place in our politics. . .spitefulness and hatred only erode that which is truly magnificent about our country.” [Sharon Pratt Dixon Kelly]

Sharon Pratt, like many First Women, holds several firsts:

–The First Woman To be hired as a Vice President at Potomac Electric Power Company–

–The First Woman To be selected as Treasurer of the Democratic National Committee

–The First Woman To be elected as Mayor of Washington, D.C.

–The First African American Woman To be elected Mayor of a Major American City

Sharon Pratt’s biography reflects some consistent patterns in the lives of women born in mid twentieth-century who rose to prominence. The first, and more mundane, issue is her name. Currently she manages a consulting firm she founded, Pratt Consulting, and uses her maiden name Sharon Pratt. When she ran for mayor of Washington, D.C., she carried her husband’s name, Sharon Pratt Dixon. Shortly after her election, however, she married a second time and became Sharon Pratt Kelly. Knowing how to report her name as mayor presented a bit of a conundrum to me and I am certain many of us who changed our names will present future problems for historians and genealogists.

The second commonality with other women that we witness in her life is the issues on which she chose to focus. As a lawyer, executive and politician, her focus, like many women of that era, was on issues more often considered “women’s issues.”

Her first job was as a lawyer in her father’s firm, Pratt and Dixon. Although she had wanted to be an actress, her father, a Superior Court Judge, persuaded her to attend Howard where she majored in political science and then attended law school. In her practice she supported the rights of children in the middle of custodial battles, provided juveniles with representation and practiced family rights law, a new area of the law at that time.

After a stint as a law professor, she was hired by the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) and became their Vice President for Public Policy, not only the first woman, but also the first African American, to serve as vice president for the utility. During her tenure, she created programs focused on low-income residents and senior citizens in Washington, D.C.

She was also active in politics, serving first as committee representative to the Democratic Party from Washington, D.C. and then from the country’s Eastern region. She was the first woman to serve as Treasurer of the party.

When she ran for Mayor of Washington, D.C., it was after the implosion of Marion Barry, arrested on charges involving cocaine use. She wore a pin shaped like a shovel and promised to “clean house with a shovel, not a broom.” She vowed to overhaul city government and took a slogan that feels familiar today, “Yes We Will.” She won with 86% of the vote.

Her efforts to overhaul government and remove corruption were largely unsuccessful, but during her tenure, infant mortality was reduced, services for families increased and emergency ambulance service improved. An initiative to increase black and Hispanic business ownership was also a focus of her efforts. During her one-term tenure she led an initiative to increase black and Hispanic business ownership. She also petitioned Congress for statehood status for Washington, D.C., a fight continued today by Eleanor Holmes Norton (see my blog of August 26, 2013).

Sharon Pratt Kelly was voted out of office when Marion Barry resurrected himself, after serving prison time, and was re-elected by Washington, D.C. citizens. Although Sharon Pratt believed that divisiveness does not belong in politics, it was divisiveness that eventually led to her defeat as Mayor and to her retirement from politics. In today’s political environment her words would be well taken to heart.


Jessie Carnie Smith, Epic Lives: One Hundred Black Women Who Made a Difference (Detroit, Michigan: Visible Ink Press, 1993)

See more at: 1944#sthash.2eU1HiXS.dpuf


Do women today still focus on “women’s issues” or are they free to work on issues that were previously dominated by men?