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Editorial: The L.A. mayor’s race is 14 months away. Where are the women?

Wendy Greuel on May 21, 2013.
Wendy Greuel, with son Thomas Schramm, at an election night party in May 2013 when she was a Los Angeles mayoral candidate.
(Associated Press )

This week, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino officially said he’s running for mayor in 2022. He follows City Atty. Mike Feuer, who announced his candidacy last year. Councilmen Kevin de Leon and Mark Ridley-Thomas are possible contenders, having not publicly ruled out joining the race. Mall developer Rick Caruso has also been mentioned as a candidate.

So many men. Where are the women?

By this time in the 2013 mayor’s race, there were already two well-known women running and raising money — then-City Controller Wendy Greuel and former Councilwoman Jan Perry. Greuel ended up losing to Eric Garcetti in the runoff, but she still came close to becoming the city’s first female mayor.

It doesn’t look like L.A. will break that glass ceiling next year. At least not right now, when the 2022 field is shaping up to be a brodeo.

The candidates for city attorney and city controller are also mostly men.

Surely in the nation’s second largest city there are qualified, talented and ambitious women who could be running for mayor. There are reportedly some women pondering a run, including Jessica Lall, chief executive of the Central City Assn. But the fact that more women have not stepped forward is both a disappointment and an indictment of the city’s political culture. For all the talk of progressive ideals and commitment to equality, Los Angeles has not been a place where women leaders can rise and thrive.

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It wasn’t always this way. Women held five of the 15 City Council seats in 2000. Laura Chick was elected city controller in 2001, becoming the first woman to hold citywide office. She was followed by Greuel. Then, the bench nearly cleared. Between 2013 and 2017, Councilwoman Nury Martinez was the only female elected official in the city of Los Angeles. Martinez was elected president of the City Council by her colleagues in 2019 — and she would be a natural contender for mayor. But for now she’s still on the sideline.

“I’ve thought about it,” Martinez said. “For me, my family is something I have to take into account. First and foremost, I’m a mom of a 13-year-old. How will it impact my child?”

She’s not unique. Women, in general, tend to make different or more complex calculations than men when deciding whether to run for office. They more often carry family and caregiving responsibilities.

In addition, studies have suggested that women tend to underestimate their qualifications when considering whether to apply for a job while men tend to overestimate their qualifications. Women are socialized to be rule-followers and may be hesitant to break the imaginary dictates on when it’s “your turn” to run for a particular office.

“I’m not surprised that women aren’t coming out of the gate this soon,” Martinez said. “They are probably sitting back and overthinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’”

The lack of women in executive positions also means there’s not a well-trodden path to follow. And female candidates still have to struggle with outdated expectations and stereotypes.

“We have a perception of what someone in an executive role should be. It makes it a tough road for women,” said Lindsay Bubar with Emerge California, which trains Democratic women to run for office. “Just the language used around women in executive roles: too ambitious, bossy, mean. When men act the same way they’re called leaders.”

On paper, it looks like L.A. political offices are bastions of female empowerment. Garcetti, Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin all have women running their offices. Ten of the 15 council members have hired a woman to be their chief of staff. But how many of those women are being encouraged to use their position as the launching pad for their own careers?

And it shouldn’t just be the job of women to mentor and encourage women to run for office — otherwise we’ll be waiting a long time for gender parity in City Hall. Today, there are still only three women in municipal elected office: Martinez and Councilwomen Monica Rodriguez and Nithya Raman.

It shouldn’t be this hard. The five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is now all women. Some 23% of big cities now have female mayors, including Chicago, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Oakland and Atlanta. Women of Los Angeles, 2022 could be your year.


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