Seattle hasn't elected a woman mayor in 91 years. Here's why | KUOW News and Information

Seattle hasn't elected a woman mayor in 91 years. Here's why

Jun 28, 2017

Why hasn’t Seattle had a woman mayor since 1928, when Bertha K. Landes was in office?

(Her slogan: Municipal Housecleaning.)

Listener Nic Roussow asked our Local Wonder unit to investigate: “During the time that I've been in Seattle, we've had a woman governor, two women senators, congresswomen,” Russo said. “But for some reason, few women have even run for mayor.”

Our guests Cathy Allen, a political consultant, and Joni Balter, a political commentator, had different opinions on this.

Allen blamed “cliques” – a kiss-the-ring, good-old-boy network in Seattle. Balter said women self-select out of the running.

“They’re concerned they can’t do it all with family, perhaps,” she said.

Or women focus on their flaws in a way that men don’t, Balter continued, concerned that people will say they don’t know enough about politics.

It’s true that few women have run for mayor: Since 1964, 16 percent of mayoral candidates have been women.

This year there are more, but not by a lot: In a field of 21 candidates, six are women.

KUOW’s Bill Radke called former City Councilmember Jan Drago to ask if it even matters whether the mayor is a man or woman.

“A woman would make a better mayor,” Drago said. “Women govern differently than men, and they are more likely to be inclusive. They're more likely to compromise. They're more likely to listen, they're more likely to form a trusting relationship.”

Radke: “These are very positive generalizations about women. Do you feel any discomfort about making generalizations?”

Drago: “No I don't. I wanted a woman president in my lifetime, and I'm not sure that that's going to happen. But I am very hopeful that we will have another woman mayor in my lifetime.”

Balter found this idea “a little too precious.”

“Women sometimes govern differently,” she said. “This whole thing of sharing credit is more often attributed to women elected officials than it is to men.”

One thing everyone agreed on is that our voters aren’t the problem. Balter referenced the 1994 Seattle City Council, which had seven women and two men.

Allen said that there’s an “inside clique” that determines who gets to run for mayor.

“Here in Seattle, we've had good women who have resumes, in some cases, stronger than the guys who beat them,” she said. “Certainly with Norm Rice and Dolores Sibonga. Sibonga had a resume as long as your arm. And yet when she ran for mayor, it was, ‘Oh no, I’m sorry, it’s Norm’s turn.’”

Rice served from 1989 to 1997.

Radke called Sibonga for her take.

Sibonga: “When you ask tough questions as a woman, sometimes people don't like that. They think it's too aggressive. I can remember one of my critics said I cut people off at the knees, when in fact I think I was being very courteous. But people don't like that from women. If a man does the same thing it's considered aggressive, showing leadership qualities.”

Radke asked if this was a Seattle problem – after all, women are mayors in Tacoma, Bremerton, Lynnwood, Kirkland and Mukilteo.

Allen returned to her theory on clique politics:

“People who do the early anointing have a lot of power, particularly given how low the primary numbers are here,” she said.

But also, she said, women have to be game to raise money.

“You have to have a hunger to do this,” she said. “It has to be the most important thing you would do. And in many cases, women just won't say, look the most important thing in my life right now is sitting on the phone asking people for money.” 

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