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Greuel, Nury Martinez and Picus address the absence of women in LA City Hall (video)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 7:00pm - 8:30pm
The Crawford Family Forum 474 S. Raymond Pasadena, CA 91106 Map and directions
KPCCRadio (via YouTube)

Just a few months ago, Wendy Greuel very nearly became Los Angeles' first female mayor. At a event at KPCC's Crawford Family Forum Tuesday night, Greuel offered advice for aspiring female politicians, and hinted at a future in politics without offering any specific details.

When asked whether she would run for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Greuel said it is not out of the question. 

"I have been taking all of that into consideration," Greuel told the audience. "I have a lot of people who have encouraged me to do so, but I'm looking at where my voice is going to be heard the most and where I can make the biggest difference."

Greuel, who lost the mayoral election against Eric Garcetti in May, was one of three women who participated in a discussion on the dearth of women in L.A. elected offices, and why that persists across the country. The panel was moderated by KPCC political reporter Alice Walton.

Shared experiences, similar challenges 

The panel included Greuel, former city councilwoman Joy Picus, and Nury Martinez — the only woman currently serving on the Los Angeles City Council. 

The three spoke from personal experience, discussing the challenges women face in politics, which they said included unfair treatment from the media and public misconceptions about the role of women in office.

Martinez, who was elected into office in July after serving four years on the Los Angeles Unified School District board, shared one such moment.

"When I was running for the LAUSD school board, I was seven months pregnant and had my daughter two weeks before my election," Martinez said. "But I remember clearly a woman asked me at an endorsement meeting, 'Don't you think you should stay home and raise your family?'"

Greuel shared similar experiences from her run for L.A. mayor. She said she was judged by the color of her clothes and her hairstyle. But despite those challenges, Greuel said, there are upsides to being a woman in politics.

"Like Joy, and I'm sure Nury, we have wonderful experiences where people have said, 'Thank you—thank you for being a role model, thank you for making it okay to be a working mom and what it means and to be able to stand up and be a strong woman and have that feminine side,'" Greuel said. 

Picus, who was a Los Angeles City Councilmember from 1977 to 1993, said it wasn't common for women to seek public office when she served, much less study political science.

"I'm fond of saying [that] I didn't know women could run for public office until I was 35," Picus said. "I had no role models."

Picus says her life was on a traditional trajectory, despite having studied political science in college, before she became interested in politics. She got married and had kids before she says she "found solace and comfort and interest and intellectual stimulation" in the League of Women Voters.

"At some point I [became] tired of trying to influence the decision makers," Picus said. "It [was] time to be a decision maker."

Campaign losses take a larger toll

Among other challenges women face in politics, Greuel says dealing with losing an election can have a lasting effect on women.

"A lot of women who run and lose don't necessarily run again," she said. "There is an opportunity for people to ask women to run, [which] doesn't happen as often as it does with men."

Greuel pointed to female candidates at the state and presidential level, and said women typically give up after they lose an election. But she says the problem can be solved with mentoring.

"So many of us that are elected officials are more than willing to serve as mentors," she says.

Martinez says that not only do women face challenges in gaining political and emotional support, but also financial support. She says that while running for her city council seat, more than half of her donor base was men. 

"Women don't give as much or as regularly as men, and that's a problem," Martinez said.

Greuel said fundraising is one of the biggest hurdles she struggled with as a mayoral candidate. 

"It's about how you ask; it's about who you ask; it's about feeling confident," she said, adding that men are more comfortable with quid-pro-quo politics —  that is, returning favors for political donations.

In a final note in the program, each of the panelists offered their advice to women who aspire political office:

Martinez: "Do not ask for permission. It's important not to ask for permission and make yourself available to run. [Make] sure you have a base or an issue to run on, which I think is very important because that's what's driving your volunteers."

Picus: "Do it. Don't wait to be asked. Know what you want to accomplish. And move ahead and do it, and don't be discouraged if you don't win the first time out."

Greuel: "I think it is important in your core to believe that you're doing this for all the right reasons and that you are going to be who you are. A lot of people will give you advice — this is what you should do, this is what you should wear, this is what you should say. But the bottom line: You gotta be who you are, in your gut."