Fourteen women elected officials from Westchester County came to the White Plains YWCA recently to share their stories once again with a new group of bright young women from Westchester schools for the Fifth Annual “Running and Winning” workshop held at the White Plains YWCA; co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Westchester, the American Association of University Women, and the White Plains YWCA; and funded by the Westchester Community Foundation.
“When I was your age, I never thought of running for office,” Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Democratic Leader of the New York State Senate told the 37 young women from 20 different high schools. She had done many things -- teaching, journalism, public relations, raising a family before she was encouraged to run for office. She succeeded on her second try.
Most of the women officials had a track record of volunteering for community groups, organizing for change on issues they cared about, or working for other politicians before they were encouraged by others to run for office
“Men run for office without thinking twice,” said Ossining Town Supervisor Dana Levenberg, whose previous experience included PTA and a staff position in Assemblywomen Sandra Galef’s office. “Someone has identified you as a leader, “she told the young women, who were chosen by their respective schools.
Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Nancy Seligson, after working at jobs she disliked, realized that she was passionate about the environment. She took a leadership role in founding the environmental group Save the Sound, which involved working with state and federal officials. “I wanted to make a difference environmentally,” she said. Elected office empowers her to do that.
“Women bring a lot to the table,” said County Legislator Catherine Parker. “We’re all really, really smart. We work as consensus builders. We are good listeners.”
The County Legislature is balanced with 8 women of 17 legislators, an above average number. Women make up about 19% of Congress and of the Senate and 24.5% or state legislatures in 2016.
Other women elected officials who attended included Ruth Hassell Thompson, a legislator whose district straddles Westchester and the Bronx, New York State Assemblywomen Shelley B. Mayer and Amy Paulin; County Legislators Margaret A. Cunzio, Virginia M. Perez, and Mary Jane Shimsky;,newly elected Larchmont Mayor Lorraine Walsh, and City Councilwomen Roberta L. Appuzzo from Mount Vernon, Milagros Lecuona from White Plains, and Kathleen E. Talbot from Peekskill.
After listening to the elected officials’ comments, students, in small groups, planned and presented mock political campaigns including a speech and poster. Students each played a role: candidate, campaign manager, speech writer, finance manager, or publicity director. The campaigns were centered on an environmental theme, and many of the girls researched their topics via their smart phones.
Student evaluations were positive. “Prior to coming to this event, I was unsure about wanting to pursue a career in politics, “wrote one student. “After hearing from the officials and working with the other girls, I realized that a career in politics actually is an attainable goal.”
“I think we were successful in giving the students a realistic understanding of the possibilities of public service and politics,” said Cheryl Feldman, Running and Winning chair.