WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Sixteen diverse female Westchester County elected officials recently met with a diverse group of 45 junior and senior girls representing 21 Westchester high schools and shared the joys and frustrations of succeeding in what is still largely a male political world.
During the fourth annual “Running and Winning” workshop on April 16, the officials encouraged the girls to volunteer in their communities when they saw problems to be solved and consider running for office as the next step. The event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Westchester, the American Association of University Women of Westchester and the YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester, where it was held.
The longest-serving official, Ruth Hassell Thompson, a state senator representing Mount Vernon and the Bronx, summed up a recurring theme when she described years of volunteering in the community and working on campaigns: “For 40 years, I helped other women run for office. I saw that issues that were important were not being addressed.”
As an elected official, she describes herself as “a voice for the voiceless .... People who elect me, elect me to be their voice.”
“Everything you do is affected by government,” said Alfreda Williams, a county legislator from Greenburgh.
Most of the women had professional careers and were raising families in addition to their community involvement.
“It’s a great thing to be involved in your community. It does matter” said Rye City Councilwoman Julie Killian, an engineer now raising five children.
Several officials pointed out that women bring a different and important perspective to politics.
“I think that women look at problems differently than men,” said Shari Rackman, a lawyer and New Rochelle city councilwoman.
After listening to the elected officials’ comments, the students planned and presented mock political campaigns. Selecting one student as a candidate, the others served as campaign manager, speech writer, finance manager or publicity director.
“It was most interesting to see how well young women who just met worked together as a team and created a campaign,” said Cheryl Feldman, the event's chairwoman.
The event aims to address the growing awareness of the need for more girls and women to develop their unique leadership potential. While women make up 50.8 percent of the population, they currently make up 20 percent of the U.S. Senate and 18.2 percent of the House of Representatives, according to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. Women comprise 22.6 percent of legislative and top executive positions on the state level, including five current governors.
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