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posted: 4/25/2017 5:30 AM

Spike in women's political interest creates optimism for more equal representation

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  • Glen Ellyn Mayor-elect Diane McGinley says she wants to make the mayor's role a more "balanced" one so more women -- and more candidates in general -- will be interested in taking on the leadership post in the future.

      Glen Ellyn Mayor-elect Diane McGinley says she wants to make the mayor's role a more "balanced" one so more women -- and more candidates in general -- will be interested in taking on the leadership post in the future.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Political experts see an encouraging trend: More women are taking an interest in politics.

Since the fall, political training programs in Illinois have been filling up with more women who want to get involved, leaders say.

Ready to Run Illinois, a branch of a nonpartisan political training program, had 22 participants during its first year in 2015. For this year's program June 3 at Western Illinois University, 60 have signed up, political science professor Janna Deitz said.

She is expecting a capacity crowd of 90 to learn how to file, campaign and run for office and hear from female politicians about how to transition into governing.

"Given the zeitgeist of the moment, a lot of women are very interested and feel they have the talent to confront the issues that face their neighborhoods, their communities, their towns," Deitz said.

The Illinois Women's Institute for Leadership, a Democratic political training program established in 2002, has 60 applicants for 12 slots in its 2017 class -- double the interest it received last year -- Executive Director Christina Nowinski Wurst said.

A similar program for Republican women in Illinois has suspended its training classes for the past couple of years.

But political science experts say women's burgeoning interest in politics bodes well for their representation in all realms of government -- especially at the local level.

"I do think we'll start seeing that change because we'll see people getting involved," Nowinski Wurst said. "Even at the local level, they may not start out as a candidate for mayor, but they get involved and more active and then get to that place."

Training programs aim to equip women with the knowledge they need to survive the campaign gauntlet and win the elected offices they seek.

And many just want to know how to get started.

"That's a key part of this program -- to demystify the process," Deitz said of the Ready to Run session.

Rebecca Sive, author of "Every Day is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House," said women succeed at winning office as often as men -- when they actually run. So she's hoping higher interest among women will create more equal representation.

But political activism requires a resource that some say women lack the most: time.

Newly elected Glen Ellyn Mayor Diane McGinley says she thinks more women might run for her office if they were assured they could successfully fill the role while still having a family, a home, some hobbies, a life.

"This is a volunteer role; there is zero pay," she said. "I'm trying to figure out how to make it more of a balanced role so more people would be interested in running."

Still, some say it's difficult to see more female mayors on the horizon in the suburbs.

"I can't see more women as mayors in the future only because of the limitations of time," outgoing Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski said about the position she describes as a part-time gig with a 24/7 demand.

"It's very difficult for younger people or especially women and mothers to step in and do that when they're raising families and working."

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