CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The topic at the panel organized by Emily’s List was upbeat — how to get more women to run for public office — but the message to would-be candidates was sobering, even daunting: If you do run for office, understand that everyone you love is running with you. Your family and friends will be under the media microscope too.
That aspect of public life came to life Wednesday afternoon when Cathy Malloy, first lady of Connecticut, shared a personal story during the Q & A portion of the discussion, which was organized as a fundraiser by Emily’s List, the group that nurtures and supports female officer-seekers who support abortion rights.
Panelists at the event held at a downtown theater here included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, actress and Tennessee alternate delegate Ashley Judd, Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock and Orlando’s first female police chief, Val Demings, who is running for Congress. Media scrutiny is not always pleasant, they agreed, but it comes with the territory.
“Whether you are Republican or Democrat,” said Malloy, whose husband, Dannel Malloy, became governor of Connecticut in 2011 after 14 years as the mayor of Stamford, “people do not appreciate people in public life like they should. Americans eat their politicians up every day. And this is a huge problem. Not only do we get beat up, our children get beat up. And it’s tough business, a really tough business, for people that want to get in public life.”
Last March, Malloy, the former CEO of a rape crisis center, received an award for that work. The next day, she said, she was ticketed for failing to wear her seat belt. In news stories, reporters noted that the state had launched a “click it or ticket” seat belt campaign. The fine, which she did not contest, was $92.
“I forgot to put my seat belt on, and I was pulled over by the police,” Malloy said. The police didn’t recognize her because she was driving a crummy car, she told the crowd, using a far earthier adjective than crummy to describe the car.
Malloy said she wasn’t asking for sympathy. “We choose to be in public life, we choose to run for office so nobody should feel sorry for us, this is what we want to do…. It’s just so bizarre.”
Moderator Joanna Coles, the former editor of Marie Claire magazine, which sponsored the event, tried to interrupt. “You raise a very good point,” she began.
But Malloy was not finished.
“Right,” she said. “Someone was saying earlier you can’t get people to run. And I think the reason people don’t want to run is … they say, ‘Wow, do we really want to subject our children to this, do we really want to subject our wives to this, or our husbands?’ And I’ll tell you it’s a big decision because … the media just won’t let up. Every single thing, you know, what are you doing. I have a son who was in significant trouble and just because …”
Coles stepped in again. “You raise an interesting point,” she said.
Before Malloy could discuss her son’s troubles, Demings jumped in and said she sympathized with Malloy because when she became Orlando’s first female police chief, “the media did everything but move in my house with me.”
As Malloy took her seat, she said, “I don’t think she got what I was telling her.”