May 8, 201310:36 AMMoCo Politics
Taking Another Run At The Glass Ceiling
June 1 marks graduation day for an unusual class of aspiring office seekers.
The group includes 21 women, ranging in age from 24 to 64, from 10 counties around Maryland. Nearly a quarter of the graduates are Montgomery County residents, including an attorney whose parents were immigrants from Ghana and an Egyptian native who wanted to become more involved in local civic affairs after watching the “Arab Spring” transform her native country.
What this diverse group has in common is that they are all registered Maryland Democrats with an interest in elected or appointed office now or in the foreseeable future.
They are the first graduating class of Emerge Maryland, an offshoot of a six-year old national political group called Emerge America. For the most part, Emerge Maryland recruited the women for this year’s class, and put them through 70 hours of training over seven months to absorb “pretty much everything you’re going to need to learn to run for office,” as the program’s executive director, Diane Fink, put it.
Instrumental in setting up Emerge Maryland was long-time Bethesda resident Susan Turnbull, a former chair of the Maryland Democratic Party who is an Emerge America board member. The initiative bespeaks a concern by Turnbull and others that, even as Maryland is seen increasingly as among the nation’s most progressive jurisdictions, the effort to increase the number of women in elected office has faltered.
Recent data tends to underscore this viewpoint:
**The Maryland General Assembly has ranked in the top 10 legislatures in the country over the past two decades in terms of female members, and currently is eighth, with a 30.3 percentage of women. But Turnbull noted this is down from a decade ago – when, at one point, Maryland was first with 35.6 percent. (At present, the Colorado Legislature is first, at 41 percent women, according to Rutgers University’s Center for Women and American Politics.)
**Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is now the longest serving woman in congressional history. However, Maryland’s eight-member U.S. House delegation, where women held half of the seats in the late 1970s and early 1980s, now only has one woman: Democratic Rep. Donna Edwards. And, until Edwards’ 2008 election, there was a five-year stretch when there were no women in the House delegation.
**Closer to home, the Montgomery County Council has had at least one woman member since it was created 65 years ago, and women have come close to comprising a majority of the nine-member body several times over the past two decades. But, “having had all that experience, not to ever have had a woman as county executive in Montgomery County is sort of surprising,” Turnbull observed. (Since its creation in 1970, all six occupants of the county executive’s position have been male.)
Of course, the most visible reminder of the glass ceiling is at the state level, where Maryland remains one of 24 states never to have had a woman governor. “There shouldn’t be a [column], like there was recently in the Baltimore Sun, describing the governor’s seat as the ‘big daddy chair’,” Turnbull declared with exasperation.
Still, she is measured in criticism of the status quo. “There really is tremendous opportunity,” she said. “What I think has always been the case in Montgomery County and Maryland is that, in legislative races, when women run, they frequently win.”
She added: “What we want is to make sure is that the ones who win have the tools and experience to win again and again and again -- and potentially to rise up in the ranks and to have the opportunity to hold all of the offices in the state. That’s what I think is the promise of Emerge Maryland.”
There will be a new class each year, and Emerge Maryland is spending about $5,000 apiece to help prepare each of the 20 or more participants to pursue elected or appointed office. Those who can afford to do so pay tuition of $500, leaving most of the cost to be shouldered through fundraising efforts; April McClain-Delaney, wife of Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., recently hosted an Emerge Maryland fundraiser at their Potomac home.
The Montgomery County-based graduates of this year’s Emerge Maryland class include:
--Wendy Cohen of Bethesda, a vice president of the American Gastroenterological Association who is mulling a run for state delegate in District 16 in 2014.
--Beth Daly of Dickerson, director of political sales at Telemundo who is a board member of the Montgomery County Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board and the Sugarloaf Citizens Association.
--Mimi Hassanein of Brinklow, a 40-year county resident who owns and operates three child care centers.
--Bernice North of Takoma Park, an assistant state’s attorney in Anne Arundel County who is executive vice-chair of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.
Nationwide, Emerge America has trained more than 1100 women, a quarter of who are now said to hold public office. “Because it’s such an intensive training, you also build camaraderie among the members of the class,” Turnbull said. “One of the things we have seen in other states is that they work on each others’ campaigns -- and they support each other on a long-term basis.”