SEATTLE — Despite Seattle’s progressive self-image and its role in sending women to the U.S. Senate and governor’s office, the city has not elected a woman as mayor in 85 years.
A woman has not even appeared on the general-election ballot since 1926, when municipal reformer Bertha Landes became the first female mayor of a major American city, The Seattle Times reported.
The trend appears to be continuing.
So far, seven candidates have announced they’ll challenge Mayor Mike McGinn in the 2013 mayor contest, but only one is a woman: Seattle activist Kate Martin who has raised $133 from herself.
“I do think the time is right. I think the advantage would be real,” Lisa MacLean, a local political consultant who worked on former Mayor Greg Nickels’ three mayoral campaigns, told the Times.
Women have made major gains in political representation in recent decades, but the top U.S. political offices remain male dominated, especially big-city mayor’s offices, the newspaper reported.
Some major cities including New York and Los Angeles have never elected a woman as mayor. Only 12 of the 100 largest U.S. cities had female mayors as of last year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Women fare somewhat better in smaller cities, leading more than 17 percent of those with populations of more than 30,000. Tacoma and Kent currently have female mayors, and others, including Spokane, have had women as mayors in recent years.
The numbers in legislative bodies are a little higher: Women hold 18 percent of the seats in Congress and 24 percent in state legislatures.
Several women have been mentioned as potential candidates in Seattle’s mayoral contest, but so far none has been willing to take the leap. Some cite satisfaction with their current jobs or uncertainty about their prospects.
“You’ve got to be in the game to win, right? Not enough women have been willing to be in the game,” Jan Drago, a former Seattle City Council member, told the Times. She ran for mayor in 2009 but placed fifth in the primary.
So why do men still dominate top political offices?
The fundamental reason is “a substantial gender gap in political ambition; men tend to have it, and women don’t,” finds a 2012 study for the Women &Politics Institute at American University.
The study found women tend to talk themselves out of running compared with similarly qualified men. It surveyed 4,000 people in fields that typically produce political candidates — business leaders, lawyers, educators and activists.
“Women who don’t think they’re qualified don’t think about running for office. Men who don’t think they’re qualified still think about running for office,” said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women &Politics Institute and professor of government at American University, who co-authored the study.
Lawless said it’s possible that women are more attracted to legislative positions that involve collaboration and coalition building.
The study also found women view the electoral environment as biased against female candidates, an impression aggravated by the struggles of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sarah Palin on the national stage. And women also face the extra barrier of being responsible for more child care and household duties than men.
When women do run, the evidence shows that they are just as likely to succeed as men, based on fundraising and electoral results, Lawless said.
In Seattle’s mayor race, “there are women that could run and be strong candidates,” said John Wyble, a political consultant working for McGinn.
Some women have considered running or been approached about running but have shied away.
Anne Levinson, the former deputy mayor under Rice who is currently civilian auditor for the police department’s internal investigations, said she’s been urged to run but isn’t considering it. She suggested Seattle’s progressive reputation has perhaps blunted the urgency in voters’ minds of the need to elect a woman.
“People might have had more concern about it if in fact there were candidates or incumbents who didn’t support equal pay or hiring,” she said.