Judith Einach ran as the Green Party nominee for mayor of Buffalo in 2005
ON THE ROAD TO POLITICAL EQUALITY
by Judith Einach
The Buffalo News, Front Page Opinion
Women comprise more than half of Buffalo's population. Women are on the front lines in city neighborhoods. They are charged with caring for the young, and too many women do this without the support of good men. Women are heads of households or provide critical additional income. They pursue higher education in greater numbers than men; and women, more than men, start and grow businesses. Women are capable of public service.
Yet the "five families" of local politics, the two major and three minor parties, all chaired by men, do a poor job of recruiting women or recognizing and rewarding competent women who serve their parties well.
Within Erie County, the number of women elected to lead cities, towns, villages and hamlets is five of 44, or 11 percent. The County Legislature is 33 percent female, but Buffalo's Common Council has only one female member.
A closer look at the women elected to city and county legislatures reveals that some of the women are married to men with long-standing political careers. Three of 16, or 19 percent, of Mayor Byron W. Brown's recent appointees to his executive leadership team are women. With respect to the judiciary nationwide, 28 percent of elected judges are women, but within the 8th Judicial District that includes the eight Western New York counties, 22 percent of judges elected to the Supreme, County and City Courts are women.
With the exception of the County Legislature, Buffalo and Erie County fall short of national and statewide percentages of women elected to public office, 32 and 25 percent respectively.
During women's long campaign to win the vote, one of the many reasons men cited for giving women the vote was that women would clean up politics. I ran for mayor of Buffalo because I believed that as a political outsider, I could polish the Queen City's crown. I welcome an open political process and government that relies on research and best practice instead of political one-up-man-ship or career concerns to inform public policy. I didn't run to promote "a woman's agenda." I ran to promote good ideas.
"We shouldn't care whether a person's male or female," said Kate Foster, director of the Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth at the University at Buffalo. "There's nothing inherent in gender that determines a person's position on policy. There are no systematic differences in the way women feel about policy. But if we're looking for representative government nearer to the population as a whole, then we need more women."
Ellen Kennedy, associate professor of social work at Buffalo State College and candidate for the Common Council and Congress in the 1990s, agreed.
"You can't expect all women to behave in a certain way, but I do think women coming into politics would bring a different mind-set," she said. "I don't believe we're into the one-up-man-ship. Women's goals are more directed toward issues, not politics. Women would come into politics with a different perspective and are more likely to ask, how can my public service make life better for people?"
OBSTACLES TO RUNNING
Election law allows a political outsider to run, though not easily. I ran to demonstrate the potential in our electoral system, in spite of the fact that New York State has earned the reputation of being one of the four most oppressive in the union with respect to the electoral process. I wanted to show that even in New York, "the people" can challenge.
Winning would have been terrific, but that was a long shot. However, I did win some battles. Most significantly, I secured a ballot line. Challenged by both Democratic and Republican party operatives, my campaign team beat the machine and secured a position for me on the ballot in the general election. The fact that a woman stood for mayor through Election Day chipped away at the false perception that our mayor must be male and must come from a dominant political party.
During the race, several people, but not one woman, told me a woman has no business being mayor. Certainly, women have just as much business in the mayor's office, or any public office, as do men. Once women secured the right to vote, they established their right to hold public office.
I strongly doubt the men of this community who claim the mayor's office as their domain would be comfortable being governed by a group as heavily female as is the system so heavily male that governs women here today.
When I wasn't being chastised as a woman seeking the position of mayor, I was chastised by people who cared not about issues but about the racial attributes of the next mayor. I was asked why I didn't support then-Sen. Byron W. Brown. It was explicitly stated to me that I should understand it was "a black man's turn."
Historically, women were asked to put aside their fight for rights so as not to dilute the work of abolitionists. But New York women knew then and know now, regardless of their own race or ethnicity, that if we don't keep the struggle visible and lift everyone simultaneously, we betray our own principles.
At the time our nation formed, the Constitution listed women, children and Negroes as the property of white men. Shamefully, the notion that one person or one group of people may own another person or group remains alive in our culture.
The labor movement won worker protections, yet some employers still treat employees with callous disregard. Regardless of law, we know about employers who lock employees in a building from which there is no escape in the event of fire. Employers work salaried employees endless hours without regard for personal or family considerations. Enron executives felt entitled to harvest money from employee investment funds with no concern for the effect this would have on thousands of people.
This attitude is a throwback to indentured servitude, or apprenticing oneself to a master tradesman. Our present-day culture mimics deeply held beliefs outdated in law but not in practice.
Public policy made by people who believe they "own" the community results in one neighborhood being allowed, even encouraged to deteriorate while another benefits from investment in infrastructure, higher quality trash removal, quickly plowed streets.
The common good is entrusted to people who have been seduced by wealth and/or power, and deals are made to bring in so-called economic development that by definition is not economic development at all.
Ownership issues result in destroyed architectural treasures, vital natural habitat co-opted for development, lack of strategies for a sound local economy and public education that systematically assures some people will continue to be denied.
Buffalo is more than that which can be owned. Buffalo is a community of free people. Our success depends on how well we understand, develop and use our assets, which includes all of our people. What is there to gain from shutting each other out?
Women sought the vote because we were denied, by custom and by government, the right of self-expression and the right to advance in life. Women were denied the right to an education, to keep wealth in their names, to profit from their work or labor, and even guardianship of their children. Suffragists, commemorated with a national park less than 100 miles from here, shared the will to secure these rights for women with abolitionists seeking to secure these rights for blacks.
Where opportunity is denied, rights are denied. We are where we are because of bad public policy made essentially by men whom we've trusted to care for the community. Public leadership persuaded by select private interests has effectively so destroyed our community that people here live without basic democratic rights. In the face of that, I chose to exercise every right I have under law to run for mayor of Buffalo.
I inherited my courage and my stubborn resolve from my father, a leading civil rights figure in Western New York. He taught me that I am a full person and have the right to participate in this world on my terms. He taught me that principles matter, above all else. He encouraged humility and exemplified that virtue.
He loved democratic ideals, and he defended those who were harmed by others who saw the opportunities of a capitalist economy differently. Not only was Victor Einach my father, he was my friend. I'm proud I ran for mayor, and I know he would have been proud, too.
In 1813, when Buffalo burned to the ground in the War of 1812, Mrs. Saint John, a widow with children, was the only resident who was able to save her home from destruction. Other residents who escaped the bloody wrath of the attack fled into the woods. As they slowly emerged, they returned to Mrs. Saint John's home and ventured from her place of safety to restore the community.
It's interesting to imagine what it was they held in common that allowed them to rebuild, when nearly everything they'd created was lost in the looting and the fire.
These early Buffalonians knew the value of our place on a crossroads of commerce. They knew the value of our place beside this water. They were all in similar circumstances, rich or not, white or not, male or not. They were literally and figuratively burned out. They'd succeeded as a community with relatively good results prior to the war. They'd prospered, were comfortably integrated and deeply committed to building a democratic nation.
These residents of Buffalo and their descendents became fierce abolitionists. They defied the Fugitive Slave Law. They ran off bounty hunters, fearlessly defending and protecting members of their community from being stolen away. They challenged the law by assisting those daring to cross the Niagara River so in Canada Negroes would be free from their status as property. The people of Buffalo lived according to the highest principles. They stood for meaningful democracy.
Who we are now and how we define ourselves as men and women matters. As long as women's voices and issues are silenced or diminished, none of us will be able to fulfill the promise of democracy, nor will we engage in a real discussion of what will help us survive and thrive in the 21st century.
Inclusion, signaling civil or human rights and respect for others, seems especially difficult for Buffalonians and Western New Yorkers. Our ability to move forward successfully depends on our willingness to exemplify inclusion or equity, the first principle of sustainability.
Federal and state policies effectively leave us on our own as a region to benefit from or overcome globalization. It will require all of us, thinking and working together, to properly address the truly difficult challenges we face. A woman or a political outsider as mayor is nothing to fear. Instead we should fear perpetual corruption, the real enemy of the common good.
In 1848 women of New York wrote, published and presented the Declaration of Sentiments. This document was our nation's first written demand for women's right to vote. In it women clearly described the grievances they held against the government. As a woman of New York, I feel compelled to follow the lead of the able and courageous women who preceded me.
Women have rights under law, but their grievances have not been satisfactorily addressed. Even though, as Ellen Kennedy knows, it's hard to get the "old boys to take you seriously," women must become more politically active. If they do not get inside government, women will be forced to influence from the outside, not from a position of strength.
Women won the right to vote and run for office, but poorly conceived public policy instituted largely by a powerful male establishment obliterates benefits women anticipated would accompany freedom. My campaign for mayor was a reminder of just how far women are from achieving equality in the public sector, the sector that establishes the ground rules for total inclusion in society.
Unlike a race for mayor, the campaign for equality is a race with no end in sight.
Judith Einach ran as Green Party nominee for mayor of Buffalo in 2005.