This fall, for the first time in 20 years, Boston will elect a new mayor. Mayor Thomas Menino, the city’s longest standing holder of the office, will be retiring. The election will also see the addition of four new voices to the City Council and could signify a new era reminiscent of Menino’s victory — along with seven new city councilors — in 1993. In a crowded and diverse field of 12 contenders vying for the seat, Boston has the opportunity to make this race all the more historic by possibly electing its first woman and first African-American mayor in one fell swoop. Her name is Charlotte Golar Richie.
The first time I met Charlotte Golar Richie, we were briefly introduced on Election Night in June at Ed Markey’s victory party. After she left the conversation, someone turned to me and said that she was running for mayor and mentioned her endorsement from EMILY’s List — a super PAC that helps elect pro-choice democratic women. I thought it was strange that other than some literature I’d seen at a Markey rally, I hadn’t even heard that there was a female candidate running. In fact, most of the pieces about the mayor’s race only have a token line mentioning her as the only woman running. Despite impressive achievements, there appears to be a sin of omission when it comes to talking about her chances of winning.
Yet, in two and a half weeks, Golar Richie collected over 8,100 signatures, far surpassing the 3,000 signature limit to enter the ballot and suggesting that many Bostonians agree the city could use a woman’s touch. The initial success of her campaign includes endorsements from EMILY’s List and the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, which supported her previous campaigns for state representative. She cites the support she’s received from these women’s organizations for gaining positive press in a national spotlight and an increase in contributions which have helped to kick start her campaign.
In addition, Golar Richie has a well-established base of experience in the political world. She has served as the senior vice president for public policy and government relations at YouthBuild USA, senior advisor to Governor Deval Patrick for federal, state and community affairs and executive director for Patrick’s election committee. Golar Richie also represented the 5th Suffolk District as a state representative for three terms. She is well-known for the comprehensive housing plan — overseen as director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, which is a part of the mayor’s office — that created 18,000 new units of housing, preserved over 6,100 affordable units, provided technical and financial assistance to over 1,800 first-time homebuyers and created more than 1,100 units of housing for the homeless.
However, when I asked a peer who proudly touts her own feminist ideals why she was supporting one of the male candidates in the race, she thoughtfully said that all Golar Richie ever spoke about was her credentials and accomplishments. From my perspective, however, this seemed like a symptom that many female candidates in tough races develop: the mindset that they must constantly prove they’re qualified enough to be included. I found it discouraging that some young women couldn’t identify with the sentiment and decided to interview Golar Richie and Taylor Woods-Gauthier, executive director of Emerge MA — a non-profit organization that helps train and recruit women to run — to talk about the realities of running as a female. Woods-Gauthier was unsurprised by the aforementioned criticism and agreed that many female candidates fall prey to the idea that they must constantly prove themselves. “Women candidates need to feel like they are qualified and until they have checked every box, they won’t run,” she said.
Despite Golar Richie’s tight schedule, running from one meeting to the next, she spent the first five minutes of the interview asking me questions about my interests and what my plans were after graduation.
When I asked Golar Richie about the commonly cited statistic that it takes women an average of being asked to run seven times before they consider it, she said with a laugh, “For me, it was probably more like 77 or 7,077 times.”
In my brief political experience, I’ve met constant questioning from mentors and colleagues on whether I plan to run. It never occurred to me that the reason they’ve become so trained to ask every woman that question was because if they didn’t, the gap in representation might be far greater. The answer I’d always given was a curt and incredulous, “No, thank you,” because the reality for women who run is daunting. Woods-Gauthier and Golar Richie spoke with me about the spectrum of issues women face in media coverage that can range from a lack of it to unwarranted bias, as well as raising money, balancing work and family life, the scrutiny female candidates face about their appearance and the pressure to break the barriers of gender inequity.
“I am not sure I have figured out yet the hardest part of being the only female candidate because it is tough for all of us to be in a field of 12 candidates,” said Golar Richie. “However, I have to think about comments about what I wear and I don’t think Marty or John have to worry about their attire,” she said, referring to two of the men in the race.
Woods-Gauthier said that she believes the general pipeline for women candidates suffers greatly because women who lose a race rarely run again and public office has developed a stigma that leaves many young women passionate about service and policy entering the nonprofit world as opposed to the political. “It is super unfair that one woman needs to shoulder the burden of an entire gender. If she loses, she loses the hopes and dreams of us all,” she said.
Massachusetts is right in the middle statistically, ranking 25th in the U.S. for women in state legislature. The most troubling part of there being only one female candidate running is the implications that has on the candidate pool. Women just lead differently and the voters deserve the best possible pool of candidates which, frankly, includes females. They bring different perspectives to the dialogue and value different issues.
Golar Richie said that her biggest issues in this race are combating gun violence to make our communities safer, creating quality schools that help the achievement gap, diminishing the “iron pipeline” in which young people who have a history of crime have an inability to serve their communities positively after being released due to a lack of education and resources, enacting her vision for affordable housing for working class families and creating jobs. She said that her emphasis on alleviating poverty in the city and creating stronger communities is what separates her from some of the other candidates.
In terms of female leadership role models, Golar Richie points to Dorothy Stillman, the founder and president of YouthBuild USA, as an example of the unique leadership skills that women can have. She described Stillman’s leadership as a model for her own, citing her dedication to unifying her team, pro-activeness, respectful and inclusive nature and the environment she created that helped people feel that they could achieve their best.
Gauthier-Woods is optimistic that in the Massachusetts’ currently booming political climate of seemingly never-ending elections, we’ll see more women running and getting elected. She expects all the candidates that Emerge and other organizations like it have helped elect to local offices like school committee member and state representative, will start running for higher offices as more seats become available. She points to some of the factors that can be attributed to the flurry of success women saw in 2012 which continue to help propel women into office. The post-redistricting elections and catalyzing cultural battle waged against women, and issues like education and poverty that align with their values, have created an atmosphere that helps women candidates become women politicians.
As young women interested in advocating for the common good, we have a responsibility to take advantage of these trends and consider breaking some of those glass ceilings. We will never have equal representation if women don’t want to run in equal numbers. If Golar Richie wins, it would be another barrier-breaking win for women in Massachusetts to build off the election of our first female senator last fall. In a political climate that is seen as a breeding ground for greats who often enter national politics, the significance of having a woman in City Hall would be clear. Massachusetts has a reputation for innovatively leading on issues like gay marriage and healthcare, in which the nation has followed suit. At the very least, even having a woman in the race could inspire a new generation of young political leaders to enter the field, no matter how tough the race, and will send a message to the country that we need more female voices in government.
The primary election for the mayor’s race will take place on September 24 and the top two candidates will advance to the general election on November 5.