Following last month’s election, a new report finds women are making some gains in political representation in New Jersey but progress remains slow and uneven.

Jean Sinzdak, the associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said their annual report card looks at how women are doing on a county and local level.

She said in some counties women are doing well as county freeholders, mayors and councilwomen.

“In Union County, 48% of mayors are female but in Cumberland County none of them are,” she said. “It really shows us we have a problem in women’s representation in the state as a whole.”

The report card finds in Salem and Warren counties, women hold zero freeholder seats. Across the Garden State, 33% of freeholders are female.

Sinzdak said when looking at New Jersey mayors, Union County leads the pack.

“Almost 50% of the mayors in Union County are female. The next best county is Mercer County and that’s only 25%," she said.

Statewide, women make up just 17% of the 564 New Jersey mayors now holding office, and in 15 counties men hold more than 80% of the mayoral seats.

The report card also looked at municipal governing bodies. Mercer, Hudson, Middlesex and Somerset have more than 35% of their council or commissioner seats held by women.

Salem, Atlantic and Cumberland, on the other hand, have less than 20% of those seats held by women. The statewide average is 29%.

Why do men still hold a disproportionate number of political offices in many parts of the state?

Sinzdak said part of it is cultural, where men have traditionally been the ones who go out of the home to work and serve as leaders. But the trend also highlights the power of incumbency.

“If you’ve had the same people in the same positions for a long time it’s a challenge for newcomers to break into the process,” she said.

She said county party officials play a huge role in recruitment and support of newcomers to the political process.

“So this is a moment for counties to rise by making it a priority to recruit more women to run for office,” she said.

The Center for American Women and Politics is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women's political participation in the United States.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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