“It wasn’t my plan to run,” Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deborah Gross told the roomful of women following the casual wine and cheese networking reception. “It came as a surprise when the councilman retired. I was holding the phone with one hand and writing a list of all the people I knew who could run, 150 or so, with the other. And then I thought I want to be the one to do this.”
On October 22, the women of Pittsburgh City Council – Councilwoman Gross, Councilwoman Darlene M. Harris, Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, and Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak – spoke candidly about their experiences running for office and serving as councilmembers at A Night Out with the Women of City Council, an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.
“Sometimes being on City Council is like being in the CIA. You can prevent bad things from happening without anyone knowing.”
– Councilwoman Darlene Harris
“During my run, I had the feeling that I was an outsider,” said Rudiak. “No one was tapping me on the shoulder and telling me that I should run. The hardest part was knowing people my whole life and seeing them not support me because they didn’t think I could win.”
The councilwomen’s remarks were followed by a question and answer session, during which one woman asked: Is it time for us as women to think about a different kind of political party?
“I struggle with that, as a Democrat,” said Rudiak. “Right now, I think there’s an unprecedented effort to get new people to run in our party. It is really energized. Sometimes working within the system provides the best opportunities for change.”
“There will always be someone to manipulate you, no matter what party you’re associated with,” agreed Kail-Smith. “Do what it takes to work within your community.”
The councilwomen also offered advice for women who were considering entering politics, much of which centered on fortitude: Keep on moving and doing what you think is right. You need to be in a place where you’re okay with people not liking you, and you need to keep going anyway. They also encouraged interested attendees to register for Ready to Run™ Pittsburgh, a day of bipartisan political training to encourage women to run for government leadership positions held at Chatham on January 31, 2015.
The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) at Chatham University is a non–partisan center devoted to fostering women’s public leadership through education, empowerment, and action.