NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–In this year’s crowded New York primaries, Alicka Ampry-Samuel is a typical female candidate. She’s short on campaign staff and funds and has no endorsements from other female candidate or office-holders.
Ampry-Samuel, running for a City Council seat representing her Brooklyn neighborhood, said that getting the intangible support of peer female politicians is even harder than raising money or finding aides.
As an example, she recalls calling on a friend and mentor, Vemanette Montgomery, a female New York State senator, in hopes of winning her endorsement.
Montgomery wished her luck but refused to get involved in the “sticky issues” of endorsements, which help voters see what type of organizations, politicians and individuals affiliate with the candidate.
When Ampry-Samuel sought backing from other female office holders, she says she was told it was not her time yet. Samuels refused to accept this: “I believe it is time for a change. It is my time.”
Welcome to the Big Apple’s tough every-woman-for-herself political battle.
This year, a record number of 30 Democratic women are running for public office, said Judith Hope, president of the Roosevelt committee, an organization promoting female Democratic candidates in New York city and state races.
Virginia Fields is running for mayor, Leslie Crocker Snyder is attempting to unseat Robert Morgenthau, who has been Manhattan District Attorney for 40 years. Betsy Gotbaum is the incumbent for Public Advocate, Margarita Lopez and Eva Moskowitz are campaigning for Manhattan Borough President, and 24 Democratic women seek City Council seats.
In early June, 18 of New York City’s female public officials and primary candidates gathered to make their pitches in front of a crowd ready and willing to support women running for elective office.
At the event–organized by the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee at the Roosevelt Hotel–contestants, including Alicka Ampry-Samuel, smiled and hugged each other.
They are all Democrats and women running for political posts, yet their campaign paths rarely cross. There is the occasional cheer from councilwoman to former employee running for office, but amongst the heated races onlookers say there is little female solidarity.
“Women running for office may feel that there is a price to pay if they endorse other female candidates,” said Hope. “They might feel that less would be gained if promoting other women while they themselves are runners.”
“There is more pressure to prove credibility for female candidates than for male candidates in political elections,” said Barbara Lee, founder of the Cambridge, Mass.-based Barbara Lee Family Foundation that supports women’s engagement in all levels of government.
Female politicians constantly prove their qualifications while men who jump into the race and are assumed to be qualified, added Lee, who cited examples of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and wrestler Jesse Ventura, the relatively easily elected governors of California and Minnesota. Politicians hesitate to endorse a candidate who not only might lose in an election but whose defeat could reflect badly on them.
Being a woman puts enough pressure on a female candidate, and Eva Moskowitz, a council member and a candidate for Manhattan Borough president, has realized that being a mother of three children makes voters and politicians wonder whether she can handle that much multitasking. Endorsement by female politicians is an important symbol, said Moskowitz.
“My endorsement counts in New York City,” said Ruth Messinger, whose former titles include a city council member, a Manhattan borough president and a Democratic candidate in 1997 mayoral election.
She recognizes that endorsements by peer female politicians are crucial for successful campaign, but says such promotion should be based on the political accomplishments of the candidate, not on common physical traits.
She also cited personal and professional reasons for supporting long-time colleague Fernando Ferrer for mayor rather than Borough President Virginia Fields, and Snyder, with whom Messinger went to college, for district attorney than incumbent Robert Morgenthau.
Women make up 52 percent of the U.S. population, yet female representation in elected office is scarce.
“Women comprise only 15 percent of Congress, 25 percent of statewide offices, and 22 percent of state legislature positions,” said Pat Carpenter, president of The Wish List, an organization based in Alexandria, Va. that assists pro-choice Republican female candidates in elections.
Women, entering politics or competing for higher elective office, work in collaborative teams with other female candidates in the training programs at the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University, said Martha Sterling-Golden, a board member at the New Haven, Conn. school.
Two Major Female Endorsements
Snyder, who served as a respected judge before deciding to run for district attorney, has landed two major female endorsements; Messinger, the former democratic mayoral candidate, and Geraldine Ferraro, the former vice president nominee.
She however has not in turn endorsed other female candidates. She explained she had her own campaign to run. She added that incumbents strategically protect other incumbents and since most elective officials are male, serving female politicians are unlikely to endorse female candidates.
In fact, Snyder did not manage to get the endorsement of popular Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, the only woman in a city-wide elective office. Gotbaum, the incumbent against nine male candidates for her position, said that nobody knew that Robert Morgenthau, district attorney since 1975, would run for yet another term when she and Snyder met two years ago. However, Gotbaum could not endorse the female challenger because of personal and professional ties with Morgenthau.
“I know him and his wife a long time,” Gotbaum said.
Unintentionally, Gotbaum used the same words as Snyder did to explain her restraint to support other female candidates: “I have my own campaign to run.” She said that women, running for elective positions, such as mayoral candidate Virginia Fields, understand her strategy not to endorse them.
Endorsements are uplifting support from colleagues but not central to political campaigns, replied Fields in an e-mail to Women’s eNews.
Fields, whose campaign has had some early stumbling after a campaign strategist doctored promotional photograph, gave seven examples of activists and politicians who have endorsed her, including a U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and State Assembly Member Annette Robinson. Although Fields said to have supported many female politicians in the past, she is focusing solely on her campaign for this year’s elections.
“Women have not reached the levels yet where we can all support each other simply because we are women,” said Fields.
“The fact remains that there are many more male politicians and elected officials so it makes sense that women candidates have to align with male politicians for support,” said Fields.
Kamelia Angelova, an intern at Women’s eNews and a freelance reporter based in New York City, studies Journalism and Political Science at Hunter College.
For more information:
The Women’s Campaign School at Yale University:
The Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee:
The Wish List:
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