Allegheny County Is 3rd Worst In PA For Number Of Women Running For Office

May 24, 2017

One day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, women, men and children marched in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh.

Women were encouraged to run for office at all levels: federal, state and local. But was that call to action taken to heart and was it reflected in the recently held Pennsylvania Primary?  

Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said there was only one woman candidate for every two male candidates in Allegheny County. That number could be skewed because it also includes judges of elections at the polling places throughout the county.

She spoke with 90.5 WESA's Kevin Gavin about women in Pennsylvania politics. 

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

KEVIN GAVIN: Immediately following the inauguration of President Trump and the day after the Women's March, there was great enthusiasm -- a call for more women candidates for elected offices at various levels. Four months later, is that enthusiasm still there? Has the level diminished? Has it increased?

DANA BROWN: In February, when we held our Ready to Run campaign trainings for women, we saw unprecedented interest. We had class sizes that were probably about double what the average class size is. In Pittsburgh, I'll tell you, we had 170 women participate in the campaign training. And out in Philadelphia, we had to cap it at 127 because of fire codes. It really caught us by surprise. I mean, while there was this interest, particularly on the left side -- women, you know, protesting in the streets -- we also did find a lot of interest on the Republican side, on the right side, because their candidate had won an upset victory. So we're thinking that this is going to be sustained, but really only time will tell.

GAVIN: When women are considering running, and they say, "Well I've got to get ready. I want to go to these workshops." What does it mean to be ready? Does it mean to be understanding the system? Does it mean having the financial resources it takes?

BROWN: That's a really great question, because we know that women's desire to be "ready" oftentimes looks very different than what men determined to be "ready." We hear from a number of women, "Oh, I, um, is my bachelor's degree good enough for this? What if I only have a high school degree. Can I run for this?" And it's just so interesting, because rarely are we in conversation when a male is really doubting his credentials in that way. And so what I would say to women thinking about readiness level is that your lived experience in your community, participating in local efforts at the community level, is exactly what we need. We are always trying to encourage women to realize that you are credentialed enough to to run exactly as you are.

GAVIN: That interest, you mentioned it was in time for filing. Anecdotally speaking, what were you hearing in terms of why there was the interest in attending these workshops?

BROWN: Progressive women in particular were angry and upset about Trump's victory. And also, you know, some of the remarks that Trump had made on the campaign trail or at least the video that came out that Trump in his own words had said some really not-so-tasteful things about women. A lot of women did tell us that that that was the driving factor. They realized that they no longer could sit on the sidelines as just voters -- active citizens in that way. But that it was up to them to change the values of their community and to move their communities forward. And on the Republican side, women were buoyed. I mean they were really excited that their candidate had won and thought that anything was possible, and that included themselves as possible (candidates) for office.

GAVIN: Was it more women candidates at all levels of government -- that interest in possibly running? Or was federal elections or being part of a team, whether it's a U.S. House seat or a Senate seat or something like that?

BROWN: So only probably a quarter of those who came had you know expressed interest in a particular office. They'd either identified an office within the next year, or in some cases in the next three to five years. They'd identified an office and were starting their political career by taking the course.

GAVIN: We're one week removed from the primary. Do you have any sense of whether there were more women candidates for various offices?

BROWN: Sure. So at the center we've been working hard in the last week to calculate the percent won or lost by women candidates. And we've had some great movement in that regard. About 52 percent of those who filed across the Commonwealth are women. So that's pretty much in line with what our population looks like.

GAVIN: And so I have to ask you, locally, how is Allegheny County doing when it comes to women candidates?

BROWN: Allegheny does not do well. We are the third worst in the state when it comes to women's candidate filings. Right now about 67 percent of the candidates filings within Allegheny County are male. That's very different than Philadelphia County. Actually about 67 percent of those who filed for candidacy in Philadelphia County happen to be women. So it's interesting that Allegheny and Philly, these are our our largest most populous areas, and they have kind of the opposite images of one another in terms of candidate filings. When you take a look at the row offices, those administrative offices not creating public policy but responsible for enacting it, right? From recorder of deeds and register of wills, etc. Those are largely held by women, and that's where we see the bulk of the filings in 2017 for women. When you take a look at those "more masculine" positions like sheriff, (district attorney) and also county executive where (the office) exists -- you know, those county legislative offices -- that's where you see men filing. So there's definitely a gender gap in terms of filings as well as then obviously who wins for local office.

GAVIN: You look at numbers, but do you have any sense of why?

BROWN: Oh, we're always asking that question at the center, for the state at large but then certainly county by county. What are the mechanisms in place that perhaps could be a potential barrier for women in politics? We look at the two-party system and the dominant party or if both parties are really prominent, we know that they oftentimes act as negative gatekeepers. That they oftentimes will deter women from running by either saying things like, "It's not your turn." That implies that there is a line and that women are always at the far end of the line to be considered.

GAVIN: What is your advice not wanting to wait at the end of the line or wait for your turn, as opposed to sort of building up the resume in terms of school board, town council, township supervisor (or the like)?

BROWN: We do always encourage all of the women that attend our Ready to Run campaign trainings to think about their public policy pathways much more in terms of a marathon, in that it's much better to start earlier on if you have that opportunity to start building that resume. And we are always reminding folks that there is no line. And that it's not really accurate to what the community needs are.

GAVIN: So do you think those numbers will change as far as Allegheny County being a third worst in the state?

BROWN: We're always hopeful. We know that women are great leaders, and so it really is a matter of getting that support behind them. And also for them to have the self-confidence to do that and to show their leadership. We know that change takes time, and we know that our campaign training is just one of the many efforts out there across the commonwealth to make a difference and to make our leadership more reflective of who we are. We believe that the future is female. We believe that.