The next big challenge for the UFT and the nonprofit Eleanor’s Legacy is to make sure “the New York City Council accurately represents the 4 million women and girls who live in the city,” said Brette McSweeney, the executive director of Eleanor’s Legacy, at a pre-Women’s March breakfast forum on Jan. 19.
Currently, only 11 of the City Council’s 51 members are women.
McSweeney’s group and the UFT co-hosted the discussion, titled “Helping More Women Win Elected Office,” at PS 191 in Manhattan. UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who was joined by UFT Vice Presidents Janella Hinds and Karen Alford, told a packed auditorium of UFT members, “Don’t think you can’t run,” because “every single person in the room can run for office.”
“Organized labor and the women’s movement often stand together,” said McSweeney, noting that the UFT’s membership is 77 percent women. Eleanor’s Legacy has helped elect dozens of progressive, pro-choice Democratic women candidates since it was founded in 2001. Her group and the UFT successfully worked together in the 2018 New York State election to elect new women candidates and help return the state Senate to Democratic control.
The forum’s panelists included five of the 11 women Council members — Laurie Cumbo from Brooklyn, Vanessa Gibson from the Bronx, Carlina Rivera from Manhattan; Helen Rosenthal from Manhattan; and Adrienne Adams from Queens — in addition to Manhattan Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa.
Drawing on their own experiences, they discussed some of the obstacles female candidates face. They cited money and child care concerns; gender, race and age discrimination; and simply not being asked to run.
McSweeney said fundraising is often the biggest challenge. Rosenthal advised prospective candidates to maximize their social networks, pointing out the “magic of matching funds” for small donations through New York City’s Campaign Finance Program for city offices.
Cumbo told the audience, “Things that knock you out in your mind,” such as being a single mother, “are actually your greatest asset” because they can connect you with voters.
De La Rosa, who campaigned while caring for her 2-year-old daughter, decided to “turn my life upside down” because she wanted to represent the community that took her in as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic. One of the most important lessons she said she learned was to focus on connecting with individual community members.
Mulgrew and McSweeney encouraged the assembled UFT members to run at any level, from community to citywide offices.
“The reality is that we want high-quality candidates,” said Mulgrew, “and we believe it is in all of our interest to have many more women.”