In the News

What do first-time candidates from Pittsburgh need? Time, money and a healthy dose of reality

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on October 5th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

Newcomers may know why they’re running for office. But the same can’t be said for how.

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Study: Pennsylvania’s women lawmakers fare better at getting bills passed

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on July 26th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

The report finds women in the General Assembly are more likely to draw more co-sponsors and work across party lines.


Report: Pa. Woman Legislators More Effective at Passing Laws

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on July 26th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

new report claims that Pennsylvania’s woman legislators are more effective at passing laws.

Researchers at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University found that during the 2013-14 legislative term, 9.7 percent of bills sponsored by female legislators were passed and signed by the governor, compared to 9 percent of bills sponsored by male legislators. 

Female legislators were able to get more co-sponsors for their bills during that legislative term, according to the study. On average, legislation introduced by women had an average of 18.2 co-sponsors, while legislation introduced by men had an average of 17.1 co-sponsors.

In addition, researchers found that the state’s woman legislators were more likely to reach across party lines to pass legislation. In the 2013-14 legislative term, legislation sponsored by women (both Democrats and Republicans) had more co-sponsors from opposing parties than legislation sponsored by men.

Women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population – yet they hold only 19 percent of seats in Congress. In Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly, only 40 women legislators currently serve in the House, and eight serve in the Senate. The Chatham study, titled “Few, but Mighty: Women and Bill Sponsorship in the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” begs the question: Why aren’t we electing more women?


WITF’s Smart Talk: Women in Politics

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on July 26th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

Written by Rich Copeland – Producer, WITF’s Smart Talk | Jul 24, 2017 8:19 AM

The Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics at Chatham University has released a report examining the role of the female perspective in lawmaking and the need for a more balanced legislature.  Marie Cusick, sitting in for Scott LaMar, will speak to Dana Brown, Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics at Chatham University and State Representative Tina Pickett about the study.

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Report: Pennsylvania women legislators ‘few but mighty’

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on July 19th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

Written by Marie Cusick

Pennsylvania’s women legislators are more likely to work across party lines, get co-sponsors for bills, and get those measures signed into law, according to an analysis from the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University.

Center director Dana Brown says the findings are in line with other research about women legislators at the national level.

“We are not necessarily saying women legislators are better,” says Brown. “It’s just that from the point of measurement, we can say women legislators are more effective.”

The report analyzes bills in Pennsylvania’s 2013-2014 legislative session. Nationally, women make up 51 percent of the population but only hold 19 percent of seats in Congress. The underrepresentation is worse in Pennsylvania, which ranks 39th among states for the percentage of seats held by women.


Pittsburgh’s First Female Council Member Was No Stranger To Breaking Barriers

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on July 19th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment


For most of the history of Pittsburgh, elected officials have been white men. But in 1956, then-Mayor David L. Lawrence did something unheard of: he appointed a woman to City Council.

That woman was Irma D’Ascenzo, an Italian-American Hazelwood resident who was working as secretary and chief examiner for the city’s Civil Service Commission. Throughout World War II, and in the years following, she’d been volunteering and was active in her community.

D’Ascenzo’s great-granddaughter, Jeanne Persuit, said Lawrence recognized that rising to council was a natural step for her.

“It started with civic engagement as a voter, as a volunteer, as someone who is invested in her family and her community, in her city,” Persuit said. “Then ultimately, he saw her as someone that could be that change and then made it happen.”

When D’Ascenzo served on council, members were elected at-large; they didn’t have the current nine council districts. Persuit said, after she served her first appointed one-year term, her great-grandmother was reelected three times until her unexpected death in 1970.

As for being the sole woman, Persuit said D’Ascenzo didn’t talk about it much.

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think she talked to my family about that,” Persuit said. “Even if she had felt that, I don’t know that she would have articulated a whole lot of it.”

Persuit said her family have a lot of D’Ascenzo’s items from her time in council, including her official portrait, nameplate, newspaper clippings and even an old political commercial.

“I think it’s a television ad, and my mom’s in it as a little girl,” Persuit said. “Basically it’s a little staged with a pie and her granddaughter and that’s her campaign ad.”

Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics at Chatham University, said D’Ascenzo’s appointment was unusual for the times. Most women serving in higher office, she said, had acquired the position because their husband or brother or other male relative had died.

“For Mayor Lawrence to appoint a woman to Pittsburgh City Council, that would have been extremely progressive for the time,” Brown said. “It’s interesting to have a woman appointed at this level in her own right, without having a relationship, a male relationship to tie her to the seat.”

D’Ascenzo served as chair of the parks, recreation and library committee, overseeing funding and zoning projects in the city. Brown said women in office tend to think about family and children more often than their male counterparts when crafting and deciding on legislation.

“It’s a wonderful message to be sending to women that they belong in this public service space,” Brown said. “But it also sends a really great message to men and children, too, that women are to be valued.”

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Pennsylvania’s women legislators few in number but more effective at passing laws, study says

Posted in In the News on July 17th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

A new fight for Drexel’s Lynn Yeakel, almost PA’s first woman in the U.S. Senate: Trump’s victory could spur more women running for office in the next two major elections

Posted in In the News on July 17th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment


On a well-shaded Drexel satellite campus where Philly begins to feel like the suburbs, the movement to get more women involved in politics is in full swing. In fact, for Lynn Yeakel and her team, the deadline is approaching.

Yeakel was ahead of her time when she ran for U.S. Senate 25 years ago and nearly toppled the famed Arlen Specter. Now, as civic engagement picks up in the Trump era, she’s ahead of her time in promoting the goal of equal leadership roles for women in the United States. She formed Vision 2020 at the Drexel Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership back in 2010, creating a network that has given more visibility to the women’s equality movement and connected women’s political and business organizations in every state. By the year in the group’s name, the 100th anniversary of when the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, they aim to bring women’s turnout and representation in office to new highs.

As the year draws closer it’s coping with what’s been a curse and a gift.

Donald Trump’s victory against Hillary Clinton last year in a bruising election kept a woman out of the highest office in the US. But it also got the attention of women, who are expressing interest in campaigning and being part of the political process in ways unseen since back in 1992 when Yeakel was running.

Vision 2020 was a “3 a.m. idea” for Yeakel, something that just popped in her head after Barack Obama was elected president for the first time. Amid all the conversations about race and equality, Yeakel was hearing she felt like there had never been the same emphasis on conversations about gender equality.

Supporters of Yeakel say the work of her and Vision 2020 has made a difference in keeping gender equality in politics and business in the news, long before Clinton’s Democratic nomination for president and will continue to do so after. Vision 2020 connected with delegates and affiliates in all 50 states, allowing other groups supporting women to network and grow.

Their goals were and are ambitious. Leadership between women and men in business and government shared 50-50, and 100 percent of registered women voting by 2020.

Yeakel fully admits the 50-50 goal won’t happen but adds the the campaign can last for as long as it takes. The 100 percent voting goal is another longshot, but Yeakel notes women already outnumber men at the polls and are trending upwards.

“It’s a laudatory goal. It’s an important goal,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. “Whether they meet that number goal or not I don’t know if that’s just as important and having them play a bigger role and (encourage) voting at really high levels.”

There are few women better suited for increasing hands-on involvement for women in politics than Yeakel. In 1991, she was working as the CEO of Women’s Way, the first women’s fundraising coalition in the US, when she decided to run for Senator. She had ties to several politically-involved organizations and individuals from her work but was mostly anonymous to the public. She said polls showed her with 1 percent name recognition in January 1992.

Yeakel kept running anyway. The questioning of Anita Hill had inspired her.

In 1991, with Clarence Hill awaiting appointment as Supreme Court Justice, Hill accused him of sexual harassment and faced a Senate hearing in which a panel entirely of men grilled her. Among those men was Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter. Specter told reporters beforehand Americans would see a “flat-out demolition of her credibility.” And during the hearing, he accused her of “flat-out perjury” and asked several leading, accusatory questions. A fellow panelist told Specter “to let the witness speak in her own words rather than have words put in her mouth.”

“What I decided was if there was no other woman that was going to challenge Arlen Specter, who had been the main inquisitor, then I would have to do it,” Yeakel said. “I looked at it that way — that I would have to do it.”

Yeakel tapped into her connections and collected several big donations, in addition to capitalizing on a grassroots effort based on other Pennsylvanians who had been offended by the Hill hearing and wanted to see her succeed. She ran with an ad showing a clip of Hill and Specter and then asked, “Did this make you as angry as it made me?”

By November, she had gone from no-name to a force, at times polling ahead of Specter. He ended up winning with 49 percent of the vote, compared to her 47. Had the election been held a couple weeks later, Yeakel said she likely would’ve won. But the head start Specter’s name and TV advantage had afforded him was too great.

That election cycle became known as The Year of the Woman. Four women senators and 19 house members were elected, bringing the total from two to six and 28 to 47, respectively.

Trump’s victory has created a similar atmosphere. The Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics holds annual classes through Ready to Run on teaching women to run for office in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Philadelphia one usually attracts around 75 participants. This year 127 women came, seven more than the room is supposed to hold. In Pittsburgh, turnout at the event doubled from 80 to 170.

“Rarely can we say there’s a direct cause,” Brown said, “but it seems pretty clear to us there was a bit of a Trump bump. It was not what we expected. We thought there might actually be a chilling effect for women’s interest in politics.”


‘Unprecedented’ numbers of Pa. women from both parties looking to run for office

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on February 13th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

At 5:30 in the morning of November 9, 2016, Natasha Taylor-Smith crept into her 13-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

She picked up her daughter’s smartphone, typed “” into the browser and saw a large picture of now-President Donald Trump.

Taylor-Smith put down the phone and woke her daughter up.

“As soon as she opened her eyes, she says, ‘Did Hillary win?’ and I said, ‘No,’” Taylor-Smith recalled.

Her daughter gave her a confused look.

“‘Donald Trump’s going to be our president?” she asked.

“Yes,” Taylor-Smith replied.

Then, her daughter, who had been expecting to hear that overnight, the country had elected its first woman president, simply said, “Hmm,” and walked out of the room.

It wasn’t the first political setback for Taylor-Smith, an attorney who’d spent the fall making phone calls and knocking on doors for the Clinton campaign in suburban Montgomery County.

In 2015, she ran to be a judge on the Court of Common Pleas and lost.

But she says she has not felt a temptation to disengage from the political process. In fact, ever since then, Taylor-Smith says she’s been ready to dive back in.

“I feel like sometimes like a fire is welling up inside me and if I don’t have a constructive outlet for it, I might go crazy,” she said.

‘This is completely unprecedented’

For Taylor-Smith, that constructive outlet is doing whatever she can to support progressive causes and candidates, including herself. 

She is one of 25 women who recently spent their weekend sitting around long tables in a plumber’s union hall in Northeast Philadelphia, listening to back-to-back presentations about the ins and outs of running for office.

These women are the second class brought together by Emerge Pennsylvaniathe state chapter of a national organization devoted to helping Democratic women run. It offers an intense, six-month training in every aspect of campaigning from door-knocking to fundraising.

Executive Director Anne Wakabayashi said more than 100 women applied to this year’s program and the timing was notable.

“My email comes to my phone and it was just buzzing constantly the day after Election Day with people signing up for our email list,” she said. “We saw a bunch of likes on our Facebook page, we saw all this interest and so I checked our applications status and I noticed we had a couple applications started and it just kept going up and up and up.”

Truscha Quatrone, Wakabayashi’s counterpart in New Jersey, has also seen a rise in demand.

“Since the women’s march, my inbox is full with women wanting to take training to run for office,” Quatrone said in an e-mail. 

This is not what Dana Brown expected at all.

Brown heads up the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.  She and her colleagues believed Clinton’s loss and the divisive 2016 election cycle would turn women off. 

“Many of us thought that if she lost the presidency then that would have a chilling effect for women, that women would see perhaps how she was treated negatively by the press or by other outlets… and that is just the complete opposite,” she said. 

In fact, Brown has been flooded with inquiries for the university’s bi-partisan “Ready To Run” program coming up next month. Normally, she has to create demand for the training. For the first time, she had to create a waitlist for the day-long session in Pittsburgh.

“This is completely unprecedented for this program,” she said. “The room literally is at capacity. We could be breaking fire codes if we allow any more women in.”

Despite the fact women make up 51 percent of Pennsylvania’s population, they make up just 18.6 percent of the state legislature. In New Jersey, it’s 30 percent.

Studies have shown women face several barriers to running, including fears about asking for money and lack of support from party leadership. Balancing political careers with family obligations are towards the bottom of that list.

Brown says this new trend is being driven by Democrats — many of them members of the pro-Clinton group Pantsuit Nation, which has been sharing opportunities for civic engagement, such as Ready to Run, on social media.

But Brown and her counterparts at the Center For Women and Politics at Rutgers University are also seeing an uptick in the number of Republican women interested in running for office for the first time.

‘Maybe politics isn’t as scary’

On a recent weeknight, Michelle Rupp was among the crowd women at a restaurant in a strip mall in Landsdale, eating Mediterranean food, drinking wine and talking politics.

It was the monthly gathering of the Montgomery County Republican Women’s Leadership group.

Rupp was brought here by a friend who’s recruited her to run for the North Penn school board.

She has come to the meetings for years to advocate for her 11-year-old daughter, who has an uncommon birth defect that causes many challenges for her in school.

But Rupp is feeling rather uneasy about being a first-time candidate.

“Scared to death,” she said with a laugh. “I have absolutely no idea what I’m in for.”

Rupp was an early supporter of President Trump and thinks his surprise victory played a hand, albeit a subconscious one, in her decision to run.

“I really thought about how different he was as a candidate and he’s not that classic politician — he’s a businessman,” said Roop, who runs her own veterinary practice.

“It really got me thinking that maybe politics isn’t as scary or as difficult as what I thought it was… and maybe you really can keep your soul and still run and be an elected official,” she said.

Rupp said having guidance and support from other Republican women who are energized by their party’s big win is making her journey to the ballot easier.

‘Women… are those new faces’

So what will it take to turn this influx of interest into election wins?

The number of women in Congress has been stuck around 19 percent for more than a decade, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. In statehouses across the country, she said the average is only slightly higher at 24.8 percent. 

“The pace of progress has been glacially slow,” said Walsh.

Walsh thinks that’s because leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties — many of them men — have not focused enough attention and resources on getting women to run.

But after the so-called “year of the outsider” and the historic women’s marches that took place across the country and across the world last Saturday, Walsh believes they just might.

“If voters are looking for outsiders or new faces…women in fact, in many cases, are those new faces,” she said.


Women encouraged to run for office

Posted in In the News, Women in PA on February 13th, 2017 by admin – Be the first to comment

A little more than a week ago, hundreds of thousands of women marched in Washington and cities across the country. But some public policy advocates want to see more women run.

Specifically, more women need to run for office, advocates say.

Women hold about 19 percent of the seats in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. The state Legislature includes 47 women among its 253 members.


Locally, state Sen. Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat, stands as the lone woman among the 13 state lawmakers representing portions of Berks County.

Even worse, for the second consecutive session, Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation has no women among its 20 members.

“It’s embarrassing. It really is,” said Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University. “Pennsylvania has a lot of great attributes, but the diversity of the governing body is not one of them.”

Pennsylvania trails the country at large when it comes to female legislators. The Keystone State is 39th in the nation, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Both the state Democratic and Republican parties are doing better at reaching out to women, experts say.

Pennsylvania Democrats nominated former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty in her unsuccessful effort to unseat U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh County Republican. Republicans have made progress in finding female candidates. State Rep. Martina White became the first Republican to win an open state legislative seat in Philadelphia in a quarter-century.

But as the numbers show, there is plenty of progress to be made.

A complex problem

Nationwide, the percentage of female state lawmakers has been stagnant for nearly a decade, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. About 24 percent of all state lawmakers are women.

“Our challenge is not that women are running in droves and don’t win,” Walsh said. “Women win at the same rate as men do in comparable races.”

The challenge has been to get women to run in the first place.

Women typically haven’t been recruited as aggressively as men to run for state legislative seats, Walsh said.

“Women are more likely to run for the state legislature if they are recruited, and we know they are less likely to be recruited than men are,” Walsh said.

Schwank said many women shy away from running for office.

“I think that we still wait to be asked or worry that we may not have the qualifications to do the job as we feel it needs to be done,” Schwank said. “I think that attitude is persistent among women.”

The state Democratic and Republican parties are demonstrating more interest in finding women to run for office, said Brown. But she said both parties have long held a male selection bias when it comes to seeking legislative candidates.

Women often wait later than men before running for office, Walsh and Brown said. Some feel they can’t run until their children are grown.

Schwank said that was true for her.

“I don’t know that I could have been able to do the job the way that I wanted to do it if I was trying to raise children at the same time,” said Schwank.

Schwank, who is 65, has just begun her second full term. But as many women wait until their late 40s to enter politics, they often have a shorter trajectory, Walsh and Brown noted.

It typically takes years for a state lawmaker to get choice committee assignments or leadership posts. Female candidates – and male candidates – have a greater chance of gaining clout in the Capitol if they run for a seat at an earlier age.

Some women shy away from the less appealing aspects of running for office, such as fundraising or the prospect of negative campaign ads.

Female lawmakers typically match male candidates in fundraising in comparable races, Walsh said, but they may have to expend more time and energy to do it.

Nature of the state

Pennsylvania’s full-time legislature, which pays the second-highest legislative salaries in the country, presents another obstacle to getting more women in the Capitol.

Lawmakers earn a minimum of about $86,000, and top legislative leaders can earn more than $100,000.

“Men tend to want those jobs,” Brown said. “It tends to be more competitive.”

States that pay lawmakers modest salaries typically have a greater number of women serving as legislators, said Brown.

Pennsylvania’s legislative seats are increasingly safe, thanks to redistricting efforts designed to protect incumbents in both parties. There are fewer competitive districts for any candidate to pursue.

“Your best opportunity is in a vacant seat,” Schwank said.

The gridlock in politics – at the state and national level – can be a deterrent. Some women interested in public service opt for working with nonprofit groups or philanthropic organizations.

“They find other avenues to affect social change,” Brown said.

Why it matters

For Brown and others, it’s not about merely getting more women into the state Capitol. Advocates argue that getting more women to serve as state lawmakers would strengthen the General Assembly.

Women legislate differently than men, Brown said. They bring up public policy issues that are often ignored.

The federal law providing paid family leave emerged in the 1990s largely because the rising number of women in Congress articulated the need for it.

“We know from political science research when we have more women at the table, we have more public policy interests being brought up,” Brown said.

Female lawmakers are often more interested in sharing the credit on legislation with their colleagues.

“They tend to use a lot more collaborative language, identifying ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I’ in claiming credit for bills,” Brown said. “It may seem like a small thing, but it leads to more bipartisanship.”

When there is more bipartisan cooperation, it makes it easier to pass important legislation, Brown said.

Surge of interest

More women appear motivated to run for office.

In February, Chatham’s Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics is running two bipartisan training sessions to help prepare women who are considering running for elected office.

An event in Pittsburgh is already sold out with 111 women registered, Brown said, and an additional 85 women are on a waiting list. She said her office is scrambling to find a larger venue.

“We cannot be turning that many women away,” she said.

Chatham is holding another event in Philadelphia on Feb. 18, and slots are still available.

Brown attributes the enthusiasm to the 2016 election. Democratic women are motivated to run because they are angry about the results, Brown said. Conversely, some Republican women say they are enthused about the possibilities of holding elective office in light of the GOP’s recent successes.

Brown said the Republican and Democratic parties are eager to see more women participating. And she said women thinking about running for office shouldn’t be deterred by the small number of female lawmakers in Pennsylvania.

“Be a part of the change,” Brown said.


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