Take Two for March 07, 2013

Why are there so few women on LA's City Council?

Kansas Sebastian/Flickr

In the wake of Tuesday’s election, Los Angeles could soon be without any women on its 15-member city council.


In the wake of Tuesday’s election, Los Angeles could soon be without any women on its 15-member city council. The balance hangs on Council District 9, where Ana Cubas is in the runoff against State Sen. Curren Price.  

In 2000, nearly a third of the L.A. City Council seats were held by women. Nine years later and there were just three women on the council. Today there is one, councilwoman Jan Perry.

The number of women on the L.A. City Council has slowly declined over the past decade as councilwomen have termed out or moved on to new posts. For example, former councilwoman Janice Hahn moved on to Congress, councilwoman Wendy Greuel became city controller and is now running for mayor. Perry will be termed out at the end of June. 

"Ana Cubas could be the only woman come July. If she loses there would be no women on the city council," said KPCC's political reporter Alice Walton. 

For some historical context, the first woman elected to the L.A. City Council was Estelle Lindsey in 1915. The city wouldn't elect another female to the council for decades, until Roz Wyman's election in 1953. Since then women have made great strides and have become a larger voice in city politics, but that seems to be changing. 

Walton says one theory is that there are no longer groups dedicated to encouraging women to enter the male-dominated world of city politics. 

"Women really aren't grooming other women to take on these roles," said Walton. "Traditionally we would have seen women's groups filling that, looking for female candidates that they can run in certain races. They just don't seem to have the resources anymore to do that."

For example, in 1984 when Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman nominated for vice president, the federal Hollywood Women's Political Action Committee was formed to support the effort of progressive women in politics. The group, which was very active in the city and was made up of powerful and influential people, disbanded in 1997 to protest the role of money in politics. 

Another theory Walton mentions is that women generally have a more difficult time raising the large amounts of money that their male counterparts do. 

"This is something I've heard Wendy Greuel talk about. She spoke at UCLA a year or two ago. She said when a male politician needs to raise money, he'll call a top funder and say 'Look, I need $10,000,' whereas a woman might say 'Hey how's it going? How are the wife and kids? I know its a bad time, but I really need some help.'" said Walton."

However, Walton points out that Greuel has been very successful in raising money for her mayoral campaign, so this theory isn't. So far she's raised $4.4 million, slightly surpassing the funds of her opponent Eric Garcetti. 

"I think making it to the runoff in that district was a victory I think it can probably only help her," said Walton of Ana Cubas's run for the 9th district seat. "Wendy Greuel has talked a lot about being the first female mayor, the first mom who's a mayor, she has a women for Wendy committee, and even on election night she had all sorts of swag pointing out that she's a woman and that is important to certain voters. So I think there will be some momentum there that Ana can probably benefit from."


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