Crown Heights

CUNY study warns of City Council gender gap

November 3, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
If Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (left) wins re-election, she will be one of only a handful of females on the City Council when the new term begins. She is pictured during the primary campaign with U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke. Photo courtesy of Cumbo campaign

The number of women on the City Council is likely to decrease significantly after the Nov. 7 election, according to an analysis of gender politics conducted by the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG).

The researchers concluded that female representation on the 51-member Council could drop as low as 23.5 percent following the election. It is currently 26 percent. Nationwide, the percentage of female elected officials is 33.6 percent.

Women make up 52 percent of the population of New York City. 

But of the 170 candidates running for seats on the City Council in this election cycle, only 47 are women.

“And this problem goes beyond representation. Research has shown that among elected officials, women are more effective. They introduce more legislation, they’re more transparent and they’re more likely to work across party lines. With fewer women in elected positions, good governance and democracy suffer,” Michael P. Jacobson, executive director of the institute, said in a statement.

Victoria Lawson, senior research associate at the institute and director of its Equality Indicators Project, said it is likely that the City Council will have only 12 female members as of January 2018, when the new legislative term begins.

That’s ironic, according to Lawson, who pointed out that for the past 12 years, the Council has been led by powerful female speakers, first Christine Quinn and then Melissa Mark-Viverito. Both women were subject to the city’s term limits law and could not run for re-election. 

Lawson predicted that the new legislative term could constitute “a significant loss of power” for women.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

A study conducted last year by the institute, “Who Runs Our Cities? The Political Gender Gap in the Top 100 U.S. Cities,” looked at local elected positions in cities across the country.

Cities like Washington, D.C., (50 percent); Austin, Texas, (70 percent); Seattle, Washington, (55 percent); Richmond, Virginia, (55.6 percent); and Honolulu, Hawaii (33.3 percent) all surpassed New York City in the percentage of women holding seats on city councils.

The report cited other studies which have found that several factors come into play to work against women, including the highly competitive nature of political campaigns, limited exposure to politics and women’s negative self-perceptions.

In addition, women are far less likely than men to consider themselves ready to run for public office, researchers found.

“Research suggests that women don’t think of it as a possibility the same way that men do. Women are more likely to wonder, ‘Do I have the right qualifications for this?’” Lawson said.

The new report issues a series of recommendations on how to get more women to run for public office.

Among the recommendations are educational programs that include political awareness for girls and young women, better recruitment of women candidates and better fundraising. 

Lawmakers are also concerned about the small number of females running for public office in New York.

In August, the City Council Women’s Caucus released “Not Making It Here, Why Are Women Underrepresented in the New York City Council?” a report on gender inequities in city politics.

The report took a detailed look at the Council’s low amount of female representation.

Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo (D-Fort Greene-Clinton Hill) and Helen Rosenthal (D-Upper West Side) are the co-chairwomen of the Women’s Caucus.

Cumbo and Rosenthal said they wanted the study to lead to more women deciding to run for public office.

“As chair of the Committee on Women’s Issues and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, I look forward to empowering women of all backgrounds to run for public office and shift the balance of power in the Legislature,” Cumbo said in a statement.


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