Why are there so few female politicians in NJ?
If New Jersey counties were graded on efforts to elect female freeholders, six would receive honors and two would flunk. These are the findings of Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics.
Center Director Debbie Walsh said three of the seven Bergen county freeholders are women. At the opposite end of the scale, Sussex and Warren counties have no women freeholders.
"What we need in New Jersey is more women candidates,' Walsh said.
Walsh also said we have what she called "a bit of a breakthrough in Ocean County." She said Ocean County elected its very first woman freeholder back in 1977. That was Hazel Gluck, who served from 1977 to 1979.
Since 1979, Ocean County had not had a single woman serving on its freeholder board, until this cycle, in which Virginia Haines was appointed to fill a vacancy — making her only the second woman to ever serve as freeholder in Ocean County.
At the mayoral level, better than one in four mayors in Hunterdon and Mercer counties are women. Walsh said Hunterdon County currently leads the way when it comes to electing women mayors.
But there's only one female mayor each in Hudson, Salem and Morris counties and none in Cumberland county. Walsh said that needs to change.
"If the parties made a deep commitment to getting more women in office we would have more women in office," Walsh said.
According to Walsh, in all of the remaining counties, between 3 and 20 percent of mayors are females.
The good news, Walsh said, is that New Jersey has moved up to number 11 in the nation in the number of female state lawmakers. And for the very first time in a decade, New Jersey now has a female member of Congress — Bonnie Watson Coleman, just elected in the last congressional election cycle.
According to Walsh, two things need to happen:
1) We need county party leaders in both parties to put forward women as candidates. "In New Jersey, those county party leaders make a lot of the decisions about who runs and who doesn't run. They have a lot of power," Walsh said.
2) We also need more women who step up and say, "I am ready to run." That's why the center is running its non-partisan campaign training program, "Ready to Run," Friday and Saturday. It's for women who are thinking about running right now, or women who are thinking about running sometime in the future.
Walsh says the "Ready to Run" program, "really gives women that "nuts and bolts" training about how to organize a campaign, also how to do fundraising, how to deal with the media. In addition, there are lessons on getting a foot in the door — making the first steps in the political process.
Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor at New Jersey 101.5.