Women urged to run for office at forum

April 19, 1997


Staff Writer

The problem behind the lack of women in elected office isn't that women are getting beat at the polls, a group of women elected officials and other leaders said Saturday.

In fact, when women do run for office, they fare just as well - if not better - than their male counterparts, they said.

"The problem is women don't run," said Judy Lyons Wolf, one of the organizers of the Women At The Table forum at Hagerstown Junior College.


A survey of Washington County elected offices by The Herald-Mail showed that women hold 18 of the 84 elected seats in the county. Three of those women are delegates in the Maryland General Assembly whose districts are mostly in Frederick County.

In response to the lack of women in office, various women's groups and leaders have formed Women At The Table, which is sponsoring various panel discussions to urge women to consider public office.

"We're trying to encourage women to run for elected office or think about appointed office," said N. Sharon Leatherman, a member of the Maryland Commission for Women.

State Del. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's, urged the audience of about 25 women to consider running or supporting a woman candidate.

"Don't say to yourself, `I can't run because I won't win.' No, no, no. If that's the attitude you are going to start out with, then you won't win," said Benson, a Hagerstown native who gave the keynote address at the program.

Benson explained how she ran for office for the first time in 1990, with a budget of less than $5,000, and was the top vote-getter in her district. She said her 110-day plan for getting elected includes a clear message, strong visibility and plenty of hard work.

"I can tell you without a doubt it works," she said.

Benson said only 56 members of the 188-member General Assembly are women. More women are needed in the legislature to further causes traditionally championed by women, such as domestic violence prevention, health care and child care, she said.

"It is very, very difficult to get issues that pertain to women (passed)," she said.

Benson also made reference to some of the recent controversies involving the Washington County Commissioners when she said she would assist women to run for county office to "bring some sanity" to the commissioners, which currently includes no women.

"I'm willing to do whatever is necessary to bring these women on board," she said.

Women At The Table is planning future panel discussions in October and next March.

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