Editorial: More women need to be encouraged to seek office

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted4/25/2017 6:19 PM
  • Glen Ellyn Village President elect Diane McGinley is one of just a handful of female village presidents in the suburbs.

      Glen Ellyn Village President elect Diane McGinley is one of just a handful of female village presidents in the suburbs. Daily Herald File Photo / Mark Black mblack@dailyherald.com

We might not have a woman in the White House yet, but political groups say women are more interested in politics than ever before.

Yet, in the suburbs, translating that interest into women who actually run for local office still results in a disparity when compared to men.

Given that women account for more than half the number of registered voters, as Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson pointed out in a story Tuesday, that's a disparity that needs tightening.

Wilson's report showed that only 15 women currently hold the top elected post as mayor or village president in the 97 communities in the Daily Herald coverage area.

Among the 275 Chicago-area communities, there are 42 female mayors or just 15.2 percent, according to the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

Why so low in a time when interest in politics among women is increasing?

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

Indeed, many find that juggling work and family with what can be a demanding role as mayor is hard and not for everyone.

"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," said outgoing Roselle Mayor Gayle Smolinski.

We believe, however, more women will seek out office if encouraged and mentored to do so. To start with, current mayors need to be committed to diversity among their appointments to commissions and committees -- both in gender and in race.

It's abundantly clear that the diversity of our communities on our elective boards is maddeningly low. It's at these levels that potential candidates get the training they need to go on to greater public service.

"I do think we'll start seeing that change because we'll see people getting involved," said Christina Nowinski Wurst, who is executive director for a Democratic political training program in Illinois. "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."

We've lamented in this space the lack of local candidates in general to running for office. It's important that those with an interest in politics or in just making their community a better place get involved. And it's important to give voters choices that include more women and people of color.

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