While New Jersey has made progress in sending more women to the Legislature, the state is still behind in the number of women holding local offices.

Aiding the cause of increasing female participating in politics is a two-day program at Rutgers University that helps women prepare to run for mayor or a seat on their local municipal councils.

Debbie Walsh, director of The Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, says just 14.5 percent of mayors in the state are women. Just a quarter of all county freeholders are women.

Only one county — Mercer — boasts having more than a third of its municipal council or committee seats filled by women.

Only three counties — Hunterdon, Mercer and Sussex — have at least a quarter of their mayor's offices occupied by women.

Hudson, Salem and Morris counties each have only one female mayor. Cumberland's mayors are all men.

"There is still such a long way to go," Walsh says, adding that it can be even tougher for women at the local level to get into political office because "the party control is very, very tight."

"So how you get selected to run for council or freeholder really depends on the county party leaders in both parties."

On the plus side, the state has gone from 43rd nationwide in the number of women in the Legislature to 13th.

The center's annual nonpartisan training program, Ready to Run, provides women considering elected office information about navigating through Jersey's complicated and closed political structure, as well as pointers on campaigning, fundraising and more. The seminars and sessions include women who've seen combat in the state's political wars.

Ready to Run will be held March 10-11 in New Brunswick at the Douglas Student Center in downtown New Brunswick. Women who are interested can register online at www.cawp.rutgers.edu.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor at New Jersey 101.5. He can be reached at Joe.Cutter@townsquaremedia.com

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