[Note from Benicia Independent contributor Roger Straw – We’re feeling pretty proud of our daughter Susannah Delano these days! See the article below. Close the Gap California is doing a great job under Susannah’s leadership, and the nod from highly influential Capitol Weekly is well deserved. We love the descriptive phrase “no wavering or vacillating” and the illustration by punk artist Chris Shary. – Roger and Mary Susan]
Capitol Weekly’s Top 100
Each year, Capitol Weekly’s Top 100 names the most powerful movers and shakers in California politics. We don’t include elected officials. Instead, we look at those who devote their professional lives to fighting for – or against – issues of state politics and policy, including lobbyists, bureaucrats, activists, trade group leaders, Capitol staffers and even journalists. >> Capitol Weekly is a nonpartisan news publication covering California government and politics.
You might have noticed there are more women serving in the Legislature right now than in previous years. A lot more. And Susannah Delano and Close the Gap California are a big reason why.
Twenty of the 50 women in office right now came through the Close the Gap recruiting process, including 10 from last November’s record class of 11. To be clear, there are other recruiting organizations out there, such as Emerge and California Women Lead. We chose Delano because her group’s main goal from its inception in 2013 has not been just to elect more women, but to achieve gender parity in the Legislature by 2028, and there’s been no wavering or vacillating.
Given their success last year, what once seemed to be a lofty goal now seems more than realistic. Delano has been instrumental in that success streak since coming on board as executive director in 2018. And, though most folks don’t know it, she’s been CTG’s sole full-time staffer for most of her time with the organization.
How to recruit viable candidates for winnable districts
Wednesday, May 3rd at 7:00 P.M.
Dona Benicia Room, Benicia Public Library (150 East L Street, Benicia)
— FREE & OPEN TO ALL —
The program will describe how Close the Gap applies strategic targeting of legislative districts. The effort starts with a detailed analysis of legislative districts to determine open or winnable seats. Close the Gap develops district profiles based on demographic information, voting data and legislative priorities. Then the search starts for progressive women leaders that best fit the district.
Susannah Delano joined Close the Gap CA as Executive Director in January 2018. She has worked for over 15 years to promote the good health and empowerment of women and challenged communities throughout California. She is grounded in a commitment to move the needle on issues of racial justice, gender equity, and larger inclusivity.
Close the Gap California is a statewide campaign to achieve gender balance in the California Legislature by recruiting progressive women to run. The organization recruits accomplished women in targeted districts and prepares them to launch competitive campaigns. Recruits are pro-choice, pro-public school funding and support paths out of poverty.
Successful groups know that recruiting great talent is essential.
College teams invest in scouting to find the kid who could be tomorrow’s star center. Major corporations recruit year-round to hit growth targets. Organizations recruit to ensure their teams reflectthe communities they serve.
In politics, though, recruitment is often left to chance, or to the good old boys network.
The 2022 U.S. Senate races reveal how decisive candidate recruitment is. Underwhelming contenders recruited by former President Trump failed in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada, and the GOP lost its chance to control the Senate.
While California has the fourth largest economy on the planet, its Legislature ranked 23rd nationally in women’s representation before the 2022 election.
That’s why Close the Gap called on progressive organizations years ago to join us in prioritizing a shake-up. Investing in diverse women early was the only way we could convert the opportunity we saw on the horizon — 90+ seats opening 2022-2028 due to term limits.
With allies across the state, we identified women who would make excellent legislators, and invited those who rose to the top to run. By the time our Legislature’s “Great Resignation” increased the number of open seats five-fold this year, higher numbers of more diverse women than we’ve ever seen were ready in targeted districts.
We had to disrupt the paradigm of candidates handpicked by insiders to elect a more representative legislature.
I’m happy to report that it worked: This week, the most diverse Legislature in California history will be sworn into office.
In a dramatic 92% increase since 2017, 50 women (the majority women of color) now serve, an historic high-water mark of 42%. For the first time, a majority of our legislators are women, people of color or LGBTQ+ – just like California is proud to be.
Here are five Bay Area examples of the new talent transforming the legislature.
Lori Wilson (AD 11) served as Suisun City mayor before winning a special election to succeed Assemblymember Jim Frazier. She is the new chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first Black Assemblymember to represent Solano County.
Gail Pellerin (AD 28) was chief elections officer in Santa Cruz County for nearly three decades. As county clerk, she says she “managed the office of love and voting.” She is the first woman from Santa Cruz to serve in the Assembly.
Aisha Wahab (SD 10) is the daughter of Afghan refugees who served as chair of the Alameda County Human Relations Commission and as Hayward City Councilmember. She is the first Afghan-American legislator, and will join the Renter’s Caucus.
Liz Ortega (AD 20) was the first Latina to lead the Alameda County Labor Council. She is the daughter of immigrants who were previously undocumented.
Dawn Addis (AD 30) has served as a classroom teacher, co-founder of her local Women’s March, and Morro Bay Councilmember. She flipped a formerly Republican-held seat blue in a new district stretching up to Capitola.
When women run, they win just as often as men. What’s been missing is enough female candidates competing, and the infrastructure to prepare and sustain them against hand-picked good old boys. If all it took was a cultural moment or many open seats, women would have hit parity decades ago.
A strong, diverse, effective team doesn’t just happen – you need to recruit for it.
With 50 more seats opening in the next six years, there’s a robust effort already underway to ensure our state house can raise the nation’s bar for equitable governance this decade.
Heads up to the good old boys: there’s no pushing us off the path to parity now.
Susannah Delano is executive director of Close the Gap California, an organization focused on recruiting and preparing progressive women to run for the Legislature.
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.”