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A Strong Year for Women in Local Politics

Thu, 06/08/2023 - 10:32

In the May 31, 1973, issue of The Star, it was reported that Judith Hope, who led the Democratic Party in East Hampton Town, would be its candidate for supervisor that year, and that “Mrs. Sandra Breuer would run for Councilman.”

“It is the first time, apparently, that a woman has run for the office of Supervisor here, and the first time that two women have been on a slate of local candidates for Town offices,” this newspaper reported.

Fifty years later, a woman running for supervisor is hardly noteworthy. But while women routinely run and win elections at the local and state levels, and a woman was elected vice president of the United States in 2020, the East End of Long Island has a particularly abundant crop of women seeking office in 2023.

In East Hampton, where three of five town board members are women and Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez is the Democratic candidate for supervisor, the next supervisor will definitely be a woman. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez will face Gretta Leon, the Republican candidate, in the race in the Nov. 7 election.

The same is true in Southampton Town, where Supervisor Jay Schneiderman is term-limited. In that race, Republican Councilwoman Cynthia McNamara will face Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore, a Democrat. In Riverhead Town, where the incumbent, Yvette Aguiar, is not seeking re-election, Angela DeVito is the Democratic candidate for supervisor, and three women are running for town board. Three women serve on the Southold Town Board, and three women, one an incumbent, are running this year.

“We have seen exponential growth in women candidates in the last five years, I would say, all over New York State,” Ms. Hope, who won the 1973 election and served a total of three terms, said this week. “Women are winning elections in upstate counties where women were unheard of as candidates.”

Locally, “we have a history of having women as town supervisor and town councilmembers, and women in other offices, too,” said Arlene Hinkemeyer of the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island, and the North Fork. “I think it’s likely that we’ll have more women candidates in East Hampton and Southampton than some of the other towns do.”

But there has been “colossal change in the attitude toward women as candidates,” said Ms. Hope, who later led the State Democratic Party and then, in 1991, founded the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee, which supports pro-choice Democratic women candidates at the state and local levels in New York.

Upon its founding, the committee commissioned Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster and strategist, to query New Yorkers about their attitudes toward women candidates. “One question on the poll was ‘Which of these jobs would you consider a woman least qualified for?’” Ms. Hope recalled. “A political chief executive ranked behind automobile mechanic.” Those occupations, she said, “were at the bottom of the list.”

There are 125 women in the United States House of Representatives, or 28.7 percent of the total. Twenty-five women serve in the U.S. Senate, or 25 percent of the total. Twelve of 50 state governors are women, or 24 percent of the total.

But “there are certain issues,” such as crime, Ms. Hope said, “in which women are still viewed with some suspicion, as not being quite qualified.”

Nonetheless, “I think it’s terrific that there are two women running for town supervisor” in East Hampton, she said. “Women town supervisors have been exceedingly effective in East Hampton — Cathy Lester and Mary Fallon, each in their own right, were exceedingly capable, talented women. I’m proud of the work they did.”

The bottom line, Ms. Hope said, is “I’m really happy with what’s happening locally.”

Villages

East Hampton’s Mulford Farm in ‘Digital Tapestry’

Hugh King, the East Hampton Town historian, is more at ease sharing interesting tidbits from, say, the 1829 town trustees minutes than he is with augmented reality or the notion of a digital avatar. But despite himself, he came face to face with both earlier this week at the Mulford Farm, where the East Hampton Historical Society is putting his likeness to work to tell the story of the role the farm’s owner, Col. David Mulford, played in the leadup to the 1776 Battle of Long Island, and of his fate during the region’s subsequent occupation by the British.

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