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When it's time to run for office, fewer women stand up

In Los Angeles as elsewhere, fewer women seek election. More may be looking at careers in business, and they may dislike the coarseness of campaigning.

May 23, 2011|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

There are many women in key City Hall roles: department managers, legislative analysts, the top ranks of council staff. But the leap to a political career can pose different challenges for women.

Wendy Greuel was single when she successfully ran for City Council at age 40. Her mother was supportive but warned she would never find a husband or have children if she won.

Greuel, now city controller, met her future husband at a campaign stop and had a son, Thomas, not long after entering office. A nanny would take him to City Hall each day, and Greuel would run to her office to nurse him during meeting breaks.

She said she sometimes felt more scrutinized than her male colleagues who were parents. At one community event, she said, she was heckled and told to go home and "be a real mom to your child."

Greuel, a possible mayoral candidate, said that being a mother gave her a unique perspective on some issues, such as education. But she rejected the idea that she should focus on "women's issues." She chaired the transportation committee and was the vice chairwoman of the powerful budget and finance committee.

Former City Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg said every issue is a women's issue.

"Women bring a different perspective even to the things that everybody agrees we should be talking about," she said.

She recalled council discussions of the merits of publically funded after-school programs. The councilmen, she said, thought about them in terms of gang prevention. But the councilwomen considered the broader effects on families.

Goldberg, who started her political career at age 38, when she ran for the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education, noted that women who run for office often do so at a later age than men. Part of the reason, she said, is that they're often busy raising families.

"Most men in office who have kids are not the primary caregivers," she said. "Guys don't need to be recruited. Women usually do."

About once a month, Goldberg says, someone calls seeking her advice about running for office.

"I've yet to have a woman call," she said.

On Twitter @KateLinthicum

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