Westside panel reviews lack of women as mayors
Even before a woman posed the question, the answer was evident at the annual panel of mayors at a recent Westside Economic Alliance breakfast.
The only woman among the nine panelists was Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton — and as a U.S. representative, she was the moderator. All eight participating mayors were men — and except for King City's Ken Gibson, who is black, they are white.
Of the five Washington County cities not represented on the panel at the May event, Teri Lenahan of North Plains is the only woman who is an incumbent mayor.
But Bonamici, who got her start in politics as a school advocate before she was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 2006, said she is optimistic about the future.
"I think we will see more elected officials that reflect the actual population," she said, primarily because of the growth of support groups for women who seek public office.
"Those organizations exist now, so women who think they might be interested can get some support, some education, mentorship and other things that help women run for office."
Among them, she said, are the national group Running Start and Emerge Oregon, one of 24 across the nation that focuses on Democratic women. They join the Center for Women's Leadership at Portland State University, which runs New Leadership Oregon, and the Emily's List national political action committee, which has been around since 1985.
Bonamici said training in the ins and outs of the political process is not enough.
"People who study gender politics know that women often wait to be asked multiple times to run for office," she said. "Men don't. They say 'I can do that' and they run."
Four women represent Oregon Senate districts that take in parts of Washington County — Democrats Ginny Burdick, Betsy Johnson and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, and Republican Kim Thatcher — although all live in other counties.
In the Oregon House, Washington County districts are represented by Margaret Doherty of Tigard, Sheri Malstrom of Beaverton, Susan McLain of Forest Grove, Janeen Sollman of Hillsboro — and also Debbie Boone and Julie Parrish, who live outside the county.
Of the Washington County cities, three — Cornelius, Gaston and Tigard — have no women. All the rest have at least one, according to city websites. In Beaverton and Wilsonville, part of the latter being in Clackamas County, three of the five councilors are women; in King City, North Plains and Sherwood, three of seven.
Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle said two ways to get women and minorities involved in city government are to get them involved early — there is a youth advisory board — and to get them into the network of advisory boards and commissions that most city governments have.
"As a result, we have now seen our boards and commissions getting filled by people who make it look like the United Nations in action," Doyle said.
"It's been great to see this happen — and it's about time it happens."
Beaverton's newest council member, Laura Mitchell, began her involvement a decade ago before leading the city budget committee and its panel on social services grants.
Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax said that when a female student who accompanied officials on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., was asked along with others to offer her views on gun violence in schools, she did not hesitate to provide specifics such as broader background checks on gun purchasers and increased access to mental health counseling.
"This country is indeed in good hands if we take care of those people," he said.
Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway said the city council lost some women because of term limits, which exist in some cities. The current council has one woman.
"It's a reality in some of our communities, where we lose talented, competent, intelligent people," he said.
Women on city staffs
Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, who presides over a council with two women among its seven members, said, "I think it's a matter of timing."
After the May primary election, he said, Washington County commissioners will have at least one woman — Pam Treece of Beaverton, who also is executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance — and Kathryn Harrington of Beaverton, a Metro councilor, is one of two finalists in the Nov. 6 runoff for board chair. The other is Commissioner Bob Terry.
However, Ogden said women hold a number of the top staff posts in his city, among them the city manager, community development director and human resources director.
"We need to make sure there are no barriers for people who want to move forward to have that clear opportunity," he said.
Tigard Mayor John Cook said that's also the case in his city, where nine of 13 executive staff members are women, among them the city manager and police chief.
But Cook said the ultimate judgment on elected positions is up to the voters.
"It's not gender that should decide who wins the election, it's who is the better candidate," he said. "The more women who run, and the more women who get involved, the more people will see their effect on what the qualifications are."