By Diana Cihak
On Nov. 7, The Buffalo News ran a story regarding Bonnie Russell’s possible retirement from the Buffalo Common Council and her future employment plans.
This is an excellent time to bring up the fact that Russell is the only woman serving on the Common Council. She accounts for one of nine members, making the current percentage of women on the Council 11 percent. Abysmal.
According to the Census Bureau, 52.1 percent of the Buffalo population is female. Also according to the Census Bureau, 29.9 percent of Buffalo households live below the poverty level. Many of those households are headed by single mothers who struggle to find affordable housing, good jobs and a quality education for their children.
If the members of the Common Council more closely represented the city’s gender breakdown, the issues facing women throughout the city, and those women struggling to raise families, would be better understood. A rising tide of understanding regarding the needs of these women who want to work and raise their families in Buffalo would lift the boat of all city residents.
During the recent government shutdown, it was widely reported that it was the women members of the U.S. Senate who continued to work in a bipartisan fashion to craft a compromise that would end the shutdown and get the federal government back to the work of serving the citizens.
The women shunned the notion that because they were not united by a political party they should avoid talking to one another. Instead, the women of the Senate continued their regular potlucks – sharing food, getting to know each other and doing the business of a legislative body by working to find a solution that could garner enough votes to reopen the government.
After that vote, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said, “Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily by women in the Senate.” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, remarked, “Although we span the ideological spectrum, we are used to working together in a collaborative way. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that women were so heavily involved in trying to end this stalemate.”
This is the type of leadership we need to see on the Common Council.
Therefore, in a city like Buffalo, with a high percentage of female residents and many challenges that are specific to the issues those women are facing, I believe it is imperative that we have leadership that represents the population. I trust that the Council will understand this and act accordingly by appointing a qualified woman to replace Russell if she steps down. With more than 52 percent of the population from which to choose, Council members have a significant pool of talent to draw from when they cast their votes.
Diana Cihak is founder of WE PAC, an organization committed to preparing and supporting women to run for office.