Dayton Mayor-elect Nan Whaley joined a very short list of Ohio women mayors after Tuesday’s election.
Only a handful of Ohio cities larger than 30,000 are led by women executive officials. When Whaleytakes office in January, she will be the only woman among Ohio’s larger urban cities. Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda leads Ohio’s 14th largest city.
Whaley said she’s aware she’s in the minority but didn’t know the numbers were so low.
“I think women have to be asked to run and women in general… don’t think of themselves as leaders — they have to be asked or encouraged,” Whaley said. “That’s one of those things I try to do to pay it forward.”
Local offices serve as the farm team for state and national offices, and a dearth of women on city councils and local boards means fewer climb their way to the Statehouse or the U.S. Capitol. Nancy Hollister, who served as Ohio’s first and only woman governor for 11 days in 1999, began her political career as mayor of Marietta. She filled out the remainder of Gov. George Voinovich’s term as he headed to the U.S. Senate.
Ohio ranked No. 13 for most women mayors of cities with populations larger than 30,000 in a January 2013 study by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. California had the most mayors, with 45, followed by Florida (20), Michigan (14), Illinois (11) and Massachusetts (11).
The center has studied women in local politics and found the number of women mayors has not significantly changed in the last 20 years, despite some growth at the state and national level.
Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women and Politics Institute, doesn’t expect those statistics to improve soon. Lawless said the percentage of women in politics has stalled during the last six or seven election cycles, and a recent survey of high school and college students shows the gender gap begins early.
“When women think about running for office, they hold themself to a hypothetical level they could never meet while men hold themselves to the standards they see,” Lawless said.
Lawless said when women decide to run, they make strong candidates, and discussions need to happen early in the pipeline about how leadership can bring about change.
Programs such as the Jo Ann Davidson Leadership Institute in Ohio, which aims to get more Republican women involved in community and party service, are meant to encourage them to hold leadership positions. Brinda, Elyria’s mayor, is a 2010 graduate of the program.
“Women tend to wait to be asked to run for office rather than stepping forward and saying, ‘I want to do this,’” Davidson said. “We want to help them to improve their self confidence and realize it’s worth taking the risk to make a contribution.”
Women made up the largest share of the state legislature in the 1990s at 24.2 percent, when Davidson served as the first and only female speaker of the Ohio House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Women currently represent 23.5 percent of the Ohio General Assembly.
Vicki Giambrone, who ends her term as mayor of Beavercreek at the end of the year, said she was surprised how few of Ohio’s large cities are led by women. Giambrone, who will be replaced by Brian Jarvis next year, said women bring a different perspective to the job but she longs for the day when it doesn’t matter.
“I just look forward to the day when we talk about the best leaders and it doesn’t matter if it’s male or female leader,” Giambrone said.
Whaley, who said she hadn’t considered running for office until encouraged by someone else, said she wants to be a role model for younger women to encourage future female leaders.
“Women have a tendency to build consensus and bring people together where other politicians just run,” Whaley said. “I like that we’re different that way.”
Staff writer Laura A. Bischoff contributed to this report.
2013 Ohio Women Mayors for cities greater than 30,000
Beavercreek: Vicki Giambrone 45,193
Elyria: Holly Brinda 54,533
Findlay: Lydia Mihalik 41,202
Gahanna: Rebecca W. Stinchcomb 33,248
Stow: Sara Drew 34,837
Westerville: Kathy Cocuzzi 36,120
Source: Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics