Karl Grossman: Suffolk County’s Boys Club

Sun, Nov 4, 2012

Election 2012, Nassau, Opinions, Suffolk

There are 15 representatives from Suffolk County in the New York State Legislature—and all are men. There are no women among the four representatives from Suffolk in the State Senate (indeed, there’s never been a female state senator from Suffolk), and no women among the 11 representatives from Suffolk in the State Assembly.

On the Suffolk ballot this week, there’ll be just one women candidate in races for the four Senate seats, Southampton Councilwoman Bridget Fleming of Noyac, a Democrat. There’ll be just one woman candidate in contests for the 11 Assembly seats, Deborah McKee of Mt. Sinai, running on the Republican and Conservative lines.

Both are in uphill fights against long-time incumbents, Ms. Fleming against Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson and Ms. McKee against Assemblyman Steve Englebright of East Setauket.

Through the decades I’ve written many articles on the lack of female officeholders in Suffolk. Some examples: there’s never been a female member of Congress from Suffolk, there’s never been a woman county executive, and, presently, there’s only one female town supervisor out of 10 (the thoroughly capable Anna Throne-Holst in Southampton Town. A related exception: the Southampton Town Board, with Ms. Throne-Holst on it, is now three-women, two-men).

There have been letters-to-the-editor criticizing the pieces, with letter-writers arguing that only qualified women should be in public office, that there shouldn’t be gender equity for its own sake.

This misses some main points: there’s an abundance of highly qualified women out there who could be candidates and we are losing out on the intelligence, talent and energy of more than half the population by not running women in large numbers for office.

There will be two women vying with each other for the U.S. Senate high up on the ballot in Suffolk and elsewhere in New York State this year: Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand against Republican Wendy Long. A few decades ago, that would have been unheard of. But the nation has changed—not enough, but there has been change in terms of women running for elective office. Change, however, has been slow to come to Suffolk County.

The complete absence of women in Suffolk’s delegation to the New York State Legislature is an outrageous situation, at the height of gender imbalance throughout most of government in Suffolk.

Fortune magazine in its October 8, 2012 issue focuses on “The 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.” The piece’s title states, “The Women On This Year’s List Are Breaking Down Barriers…” Absolutely.  The list in Fortune is amazing. It starts with Ginni Rometty, president and CEO of IBM, then Indra Nooyi, chairman and CEO of Pepsico, then Meg Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett Packard, then Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and CEO of Kraft Foods, then Ellen Kullman, chairman and CEO of Dupont, then Patricia Woertz, chairman and CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, then Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox, then Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, then Abigal Johnson, president of Fidelity Financial Services, then Safra Catz, president and CFO of Oracle, and on and on.

If the corporate world could do this, certainly the political world can, too. And, certainly, the corporate world is not having women in top jobs because it is politically correct. It realizes all the female side of the population has to offer.

The Partnership to Advance Women Leaders has been formed on Long Island to change the situation here. At a gathering last year that drew 500 people—“Ready, Set, Lead!—Empowering Women in the Political Process”—sponsored by PAWL along with the Nassau and Suffolk County Bar Associations and the Nassau and Suffolk County Women’s Bar Associations, the chairmen of Suffolk’s Democratic, Republican, Independence and Conservative Parties spoke. They declared they would welcome women candidates. Then what happened this year?

PAWL has a lot of work ahead of it. We all do.

The first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, addressed that event saying that only with women being fully represented can the U.S. be a “fully representative democracy.”


Karl Grossman has been covering Long Island politics for over 50 years.

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