The Curtain Rises on Black Women Candidates


Will “This Girl is on Fire,” be the rallying cry for African American women candidates in the upcoming campaign season? It’s already been adopted by one Democratic candidate, D.C. Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who wants to broaden the thin ranks of female African American mayors in the country.

Currently, only Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore Democrat, holds that distinction.

She entered the race on a weekend when more than 300 African American women gathered in D.C. for the second annual Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) and Women of Power Summit to push for laws to empower black women, especially single mothers, and to find ways to increase their political power.

At the same time, Ms. Bowser stood on the steps of her parent’s home in Northeast D.C.’s North Michigan Park, and became the first candidate to launch a bid to become mayor of the nation’s capital in the 2014 election. In the background Alicia Keyes’ was blasting, “This Girl is on Fire.”

As for Bower’s prospects for higher office, I wouldn’t say they’re ablaze –yet. She faces possibly three white men in a city with a quickly changing demographic.

Only one woman has been able to capture the coveted mayoralty in what was once Chocolate City, a well-known, well-heeled fixture in national and local Democratic politics with an old-line family pedigree, Sharon Pratt (Dixon) Kelly.

Still, it wasn’t easy for Kelly, who served as mayor from 1991-95, to break the old boys’ network, and her fumbling administration left a lot to be desired rekindling long held sexist prejudices about female leadership.

And when Kelly did come out to endorse a D.C. political candidate it wasn’t Bowser. Instead, it was longtime Democratic Party operative Anita Bonds, who is seeking to win the at-large council seat she was appointed to when at-large Democrat Phil Mendelson became chairman. Bonds faces six male candidates in the April 23 special election.

Have you seen those bumper stickers circling the Internet which already promote a 2016 Girl Power dream-on presidential ticket? It reads; “Clinton/Obama.” That’s Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama; not Bill or Barack. My vote goes for Michelle at the top of the ticket. Wishful thinking.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, of the 97 women in the 113th Congress, 13 are African American, including Maryland’s Donna Edwards and D.C. non-voting Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, both Democrats. Of the 75 women holding executive offices in the state, two are African American, including Connecticut State Treasurer Denise Nappier (D). Of the 1,781 women in state legislatures, 240 are African American, including Maryland state Sen. Catherine E. Pugh and Virginia Del. Charniele L. Herring, who is leading efforts to elect Democrats to both chambers. Again, Rawlings-Brown is the only African American female mayor.

Valerie Jarrett, special assistant to the president, and Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN, are the highest ranking African American women in the Obama administration. On March 28, Tonya Robinson, special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory policy will be on a women’s empowerment forum at the National Press Club, “Stateswomen for Justice: Honing the Vision – The Next 50 Years.”

“We get the job done,” said Melanie L. Campbell, co-convener of the BWR summit, reported by BlackPoliticsontheWeb.

“We must make sure that our faces are part of the debate and dialogue,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). “We are known for doing what we have to do to keep it moving.”

Bowser told me she didn’t think it was too early for her to start campaigning and predicted she has a good chance of winning the election by “talking to every voter.” But her citywide appeal is questionable. Beyond ethics reform legislation she championed in 2012, she is best known for providing constituent services.

As women’s history month ends we witness President Obama dedicate a national monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Harriett Tubman100 years after the underground railroad’s most famous conductor died. Yet, African American women are still hurdling barriers in pursuit of national, statewide and local offices long held by men.

Will these “girls” be on fire come the 2014-2016 election cycle? Too early to tell.

Veteran journalist Adrienne Washington writes weekly for the AFRO about relevant issues in the District, Maryland and Northern Virginia. Send correspondence to her at editor@afro.com.

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The Curtain Rises on Black Women Candidates

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