Analysis: Men rule local politics

Concord Monitor
March 11, 2012

Women often reluctant to run for elected office

By Ben Leubsdorf / Monitor staff

Men and women will gather this month in communities across New Hampshire to participate in town meetings, one of the world's few examples of direct democracy in action.

But for the rest of the year, local government is a man's world.

Women make up 51 percent of the state's population but occupy just 20 percent of the seats on boards of selectmen, city and town councils and boards of aldermen in New Hampshire's 234 towns and cities, according to a Monitor analysis.

Even fewer women are in charge at the municipal level. Thirty-four cities and towns are headed by a female mayor or chairwoman of the selectmen, versus 200 led by men.

"I take so much for granted now, because we've come so far with women's issues. But we still have so far to go," said Vicky Mishcon, a second-term selectwoman in Andover. "I have to keep reminding myself that the Equal Rights Amendment didn't pass."

Women are better represented at other levels of government in the state. They hold a third of the seats on the 10 county commissions and a quarter of the seats in the Legislature, better than the national average. The state's congressional delegation is evenly split between men and women.

And women nearly equal men on school boards, making up 45.4 percent of the elected officials in public school districts that include a Merrimack County community, the Monitor found.

"That doesn't surprise me. . . . Women have historically been active in PTAs and parents groups, and so it's not a huge leap to go from there to school board because you're in your traditional role of caring for children," said Donna Sytek, a Salem Republican and the first female speaker of the House from 1996 to 2000.

There's no evidence women don't win when they run for municipal office. Instead, women simply aren't running.

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