Women to hold half the elected mayoral seats in WashCo in 2023
It appears the days are gone of gender inequality in elected positions in Washington County.
Across the 12 incorporated cities in Washington County, half of the mayors will be women come early 2023.
With the apparent election of new mayors Heidi Lueb in Tigard and Malynda Wenzl in Forest Grove on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the top seats in those cities will be women-run, likely for the first time.
But it wasn't always that way.
Women have begun taking a commanding role in leadership positions across the county over recent elections, including races for City Council and mayoral seats on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
"We don't think anything about all men being up there. That's certainly changing, but I'm excited for when it's not a story when it's all women because it's normalized," Lueb said.
Though all ballots have not yet been counted so the data is still unofficial, Lueb and Wenzl will likely take the helm alongside Washington County's other female mayors: Beaverton's Lacey Beaty, North Plains' Teri Lenahan, King City's Jaimie Fender and Banks' Stephanie Jones.
Other seats in City Council chambers have been held by more and more women after recent elections. It's the same story among Washington County commissioners: five men in 2018, as opposed to three women and two men today.
In Tigard, Lueb won a three-way race against two men, John Goodhouse and Nick Hess, both with backgrounds in politics.
Hess most recently ran in the crowded Oregon Republican primary for governor, and Goodhouse has served on the Tigard City Council since 2014.
As of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, Lueb is leading in the election with 52.5% of the votes, compared to 29.1% for Goodhouse and 18.2% for Hess.
Lueb has a history in politics too, having served on the Tigard City Council since 2019 and been council president since January 2021.
Lueb had to step down from her seat to run for mayor. Tigard has an unusual rule requiring council members to resign their seat in order to run for mayor, even if they would otherwise be eligible to continue serving.
Before Lueb made the decision to seek appointment to the council in 2019, she said she attended a few council meetings to get a better understanding of what took place there.
"I looked up and it was five white men," Lueb recalled. "There was a little girl in the gallery with her mom or dad who had business with the council, and it struck me that her looking up there, she didn't see herself and didn't see it as something that might be possible."
For Forest Grove mayor, Wenzl, a Forest Grove councilor since 2014, beat out Timothy Rippe, a city councilor since 2016, with 54.6% of the unofficial vote as of 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9.
After a late evening of watching the results come in, Wenzl returned to work at Neil Armstrong Middle School on Wednesday, where she's been teaching for over 20 years, to the support of her students.
"There was no better place to be for me than my classroom today," she said.
Wenzl said she hopes her representation as a teacher and now as mayor shines a light on the roles that anyone, even her students, can one day fulfill.
"Now my student know a mayor. I live in the neighborhood. This is how they become engaged," she said, adding, "We know as teachers, as community members that when young people see people they know do a position, they are more likely to go for that position."
With Lueb's election Tuesday, she will become the first female mayor of Tigard. Wenzl is likely to hold the similar accolade, though Forest Grove does not have an official record of mayors of the town.
They join the ranks of other women to first lead the cities around Washington County — some more recent than others.
Wenzl said she hopes her election to the mayor's seat helps more people of color, women and those who work full-time feel that they, too, can participate in local government.
"It's a step in the right direction, with the ultimate goal of continuing to bring more people into participating in local government, feeling it's accessible and that their voice matters," Wenzl said.
Lacey Beaty was elected as the first woman to serve as mayor of Beaverton in 2020, and she now heads a council that hosts four women in its six seats.
Renee Fellman had been elected mayor of Beaverton in 1976, but a charter change that year invalidated the results of the mayoral election altogether, meaning Fellman never took office.
Hillsboro's first and thus far only female mayor was Shirley Huffman, who was elected in 1985 and served until 1993.
Lueb says she thinks about her 2-year-old daughter, and how hopefully by the time she's able to follow local politics, first females in elected roles will be a thing of the past.
"These sorts of things won't look anything but normal to her, which is incredible for us who have never seen it," Lueb said.
Other local government seats
The proportion of women serving in elected positions on governing bodies has always been unrepresentative of their proportion of the population.
The League of Oregon Cities has found that as of December 2021, 71 mayoral seats across Oregon were held by women. That's 29%.
A 2019 survey found that women made up about 43% of all elected officials in Oregon across Oregon's 241 incorporated cities.
Washington County appears to be going beyond those counts, with 50% of elected mayors being female and many of the cities boasting a majority of women as city councilors.
"It's incredible and well past time that Tigard be led by a … woman," Lueb said.
She added, "Tigard consistently across the board chose candidates from diverse backgrounds, showing they want government and even the state government to be more reflective of our community members."
Most of the larger cities in Washington County have councils that are made up at least half by women, not including the mayor: Beaverton with four out of six seats, Tigard with two of four seats, Forest Grove with four of six seats come early 2023, Cornelius with two of four seats, and Banks with three of five seats filled by women.
Until the 2018 election, the Washington County Board of Commissioners was mostly a boys' club. Since Desari Strader left her seat in 2011, no women were on the board.
As the board pushed to get more women and people of color to represent Washington County's diverse constituency, women have been elected to three of the five seats in 2018 and 2020.
Lueb says she's excited to get to work with the gender-diverse slate of mayors across Washington County, and Wenzl thanked her female mentors who encouraged her to seek election while working a full-time job and being a mother.
"It's OK to ask for help," said Wenzl. "You're not expected to be perfect, You're expected to try your best and show up. Create support systems that help everybody."
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