Governor post eludes women in Pennsylvania

By Melissa Daniels

Published: Saturday, May 24, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The first woman to run for governor in Pennsylvania knew she had no shot at victory. And she’d been mired in scandal.

Jennifer Wesner, 80, of Knox in Clarion County was the borough’s mayor in the early 1970s. Then a photographer leaked risque photos of Wesner to national tabloids, from her days as a topless model a decade earlier. Though mortified, Wesner went on to run four campaigns for higher office.

She dove into philanthropy and authored a book on her experiences.

“I would keep running for office, and that’s how I’d get known,” she said. “I became something; I became somebody.”

Wesner’s name has a place in history as the first of seven women to run for governor in Pennsylvania, one of two dozen states where voters never have elected a woman to the office. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Philadelphia and Katie McGinty, a former environmental administrator in state government, lost the Democratic primary on Tuesday to Tom Wolf, a millionaire businessman from York County.

Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which encourages female leadership in politics, said just 35 women governors have served in the nation’s history; five are in office. To Kimmell and other female-candidate advocates, this poses a policy problem.

“When women are at the table, their unique life experiences are being represented,” she said. “It’s not about whether they’re there just because of their gender.”

Dana Brown, executive director at the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University, said the primary election was “a mixed bag with a negative outlook” for female candidates. In addition to postponing the possibility of a woman governor until at least 2018, Schwartz’s loss means that when her term in Congress ends, Pennsylvania’s delegation will be all-male — unless one of six female challengers overtakes an incumbent. Women have 99, or 18.5 percent, of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress, according the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers.

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