Category Archives: Gender justice

Majority of Bay Area officials are white and male despite diversity

One third of cities in the region have all-white city councils

Sabina Zafar, candidate for San Ramon City Council
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Leonardo Castaneda, Bay Area News Group

The Bay Area is one of the most diverse regions in the country, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at the region’s elected officials, according to a new study.

City council members, mayors, county supervisors and district attorneys in the nine-county Bay Area are mostly white and male, far beyond their share of the population, according to a newly released report on diversity in public office. About 40 percent of the region’s population is white, but 71 percent of elected officials are white. One-third of cities in the region have all-white city councils.

“Our elected officials largely do not reflect the diversity of the communities that they are serving,” said Sarah Treuhaft, a managing director at the Bay Area Equity Atlas, a project of the San Francisco Foundation, PolicyLink and USC.

Treuhaft is optimistic, noting that the percentage of elected officials of color has increased from 26 percent before the 2018 elections to 29 percent. The share of women also increased to 44 percent, up from 40 percent.

Regionally, Latinos make up 24 percent of the population but 10 percent of elected officials, the report found. Cities like Concord and South San Francisco are about a third Latino but don’t have any Latino elected officials.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up 26 percent of the population and 10 percent of elected officials. In Hercules, in Contra Costa County, nearly half the population is Asian American and Pacific Islander. The mayor is the only Asian American elected official.

Treuhaft said she was particularly surprised to see the lack of diversity in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, both of which have long been majority-minority counties.

Black residents are the only racial group that has proportionate representation, making up 6 percent of the population and 6 percent of elected officials.

Having people of color in elected office, Treuhaft said, is a measure of a group’s power and an important step in addressing issues like structural and institutional racism that affect those residents.

“Representation is not everything, but it matters,” she said.

Keith Carson, a long-time black Alameda County supervisor whose district includes West Oakland, Berkeley and Piedmont, said residents struggling with issues like lack of access to education, healthcare or employment are more likely to turn to elected officials of color.

“(They say,) ‘We would like for you to be a champion on this,’ because they — probably rightfully so — believe there’s more identifying with their challenges,” he said.

Change is occurring in some communities. Before the 2018 elections, San Ramon — which is 46 percent Asian American and Pacific Islander and 43 percent white — had an all-white, all-male city council. That’s when Sabina Zafar, now the city’s vice mayor, was elected.

“Not having that representation was one of the things that bothered me,” Zafar said, noting that the council hadn’t had a female member in seven years. “Somebody has to step up and show the face of the community.”

Zafar said she was spurred to run by a reason many council members may find familiar — the sudden appearance in her neighborhood of a Walgreens in a location she thought could have been better used for smaller stores, maybe a coffee shop, that would work as a community meeting place.

For her, politics is something of a family legacy. In Pakistan, her father was a city council member and eventually a member of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s cabinet. Meeting Pakistan’s famed female leader was inspirational, Zafar said. But any thoughts of entering politics faded into the background until she volunteered for the upstart campaign of U.S Rep. Eric Swalwell, a one-term Dublin council member who in 2012 defeated long-time incumbent Pete Stark.

“He kind of reminded me a lot of my father,” she said.

She applied to Emerge California, a program that trains women to run for office and whose alumnae include Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose council member Magdalena Carrasco.

That training, she said, helped her deal with comments like people telling her it wasn’t her turn to run for office.

“I get to decide when it’s my turn and when I’m ready,” she said.

After an unsuccessful attempt in 2016, Zafar was elected two years later. Following a lawsuit, the city recently switched to district elections.

District elections have been credited with helping increase diversity in other cities, including Fremont, which expanded its council from five to seven seats. The city now has four Asian American and Pacific Islander representatives, double the number before district elections. In Santa Clara, the city’s only current non-white council member — Raj Chahal — was elected after a switch to district elections. Next week, Measure C, put on the ballot by the council, will ask voters to decrease the city’s districts from six to three, each with two council members — a change Chahal opposes.

Meanwhile, Zahal said she’s been working to make her city more inclusive. She said that aside from some disagreements on issues like district elections, her fellow council members have been welcoming and aware of the need for broader representation on the council.

“When I took the oath, the room was very different. It was the first time a lot of people had come out to the city hall,” she said. “I think people noticed. Certainly the other council members noticed.”

Major new survey on women’s equality in the Trump/Republican era

[Editor: the new Supermajority survey covered in this article is amazing – a must-read eye-opener.  My suggestion: read it first, then read the NY Times analysis below.  And for a more hard-hitting analysis, see The Guardian’s “New poll shows what really interests ‘pro-lifers’: controlling women” – R.S.]

A Flash Point for Women in Politics

The New York Times, by By Lisa Lerer, Aug. 19, 2019

Throughout the Trump administration, there has been a fair amount of attention paid to the influx of women into politics. Historic numbers of women ran for, and won, political office last November. Six women are running for the Democratic presidential nomination. And from the Women’s March to voter turnout, it’s clear that women — particularly Democrats — are engaged in American politics as never before.

But there has been far less focus on what, exactly, all these female voters want.

Click to see the survey.

Now, some new polling conducted for the women’s political action group Supermajority, and shared first with On Politics, gives us a unique look at how women are shaping the political landscape — and how politics is shaping women’s lives.

“Women’s equality is at the forefront of people’s minds in a way that it hasn’t been ever in my history of looking at research and polling,” said Cecile Richards, the former Planned Parenthood president. “How candidates talk about these issues and think about them is really going to be influential in the coming elections.”

Supermajority, a nonpartisan organization, aims to train two million women to organize around political issues related to women’s equality. Part of that effort means asking about topics that are rarely addressed in political surveys — issues including gender equity and recent restrictions on abortion.

Here’s some of what they found.

On gender equality:

• There is a big partisan split over whether gender equality has been achieved: While 88 percent of Democratic women believe there is “still work to be done,” just 46 percent of Republican women agree.

On the recent abortion laws:

• The passage of new abortion laws, which essentially banned the procedure in a number of states, was a mobilizing moment for many female voters. Fifty-five percent of women said the recent laws made them think about the state of women’s rights and equality; 57 percent said they talked to friends or family about them.

On President Trump:

• Nearly every segment of female voters is more likely to think President Trump has made things worse for women, rather than better: Democratic women, 81 percent to 5 percent; Latinx women, 57 to 21; independent women, 47 to 25. Only Republican women disagree — 5 percent said he had made things worse for them, while 62 percent said better.

On the 2020 election:

• The survey asked which issues are “extremely important” in the presidential election. Climate change was an answer for 65 percent of Democratic women, and 14 percent of Republican women. Conversely, illegal immigration was a response for 72 percent of Republicans, and 43 percent of Democrats.