Women urged to get political

October 19, 1997


Staff Writer

Maryland Del. Sue Hecht's voice echoed as she spoke to a mostly empty room about the need for more women to get involved in politics.

"Your voice can make a difference," Hecht told the small but dedicated group of women at the eighth annual Washington County Women's Fair on Saturday.

Whether it is joining a parent-teacher organization or running for state office, women need to get involved in deciding the issues that affect them and their families, she said.


In Washington County, 21 percent of elected officials are women, said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

"We should not be satisfied with 20 percent of the political seats," she said. "We have the right to shape our own lives."

Hecht was the keynote speaker at the daylong Women's Fair, which featured morning workshops on issues ranging from stress management to retirement investment strategies.

For the first time, the fair was held in downtown Hagerstown. In past years, it was held at Hagerstown Junior College, said Donna Smith, one of the organizers.

Turnout was down because of construction in Public Square, she said. Also, the weather was so nice that many attendees left after the morning workshops, organizers said.

Hecht said the dozen women who stayed for her speech were the "hardcore" supporters of women in politics.

"I'll probably be singing to the choir, but I hope you'll go out and sing to other people," she said.

Women are often too reluctant to run for office or, sometimes, even to vote, she said.

Women should remember that women who run have the same success rate as their male counterparts.

In fact, women have a better success rate on their first try, as Hecht did in 1995, she said.

Women shouldn't let a lack of formal education from stopping them, she said.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., was a social worker when she got her start in politics, organizing a neighborhood effort to stop a four-lane highway from being built through Fells Point, Md., Hecht said.

"If you care about this world, you have the credentials," she said.

Hecht said she never dreamed she would get into politics until she became executive director of Heartly House, a Frederick, Md., women's shelter. She realized the power of the Maryland General Assembly when she began lobbying them for changes to domestic violence laws, she said.

In addition to Hecht's speech, the Women's Fair featured a forum of women elected officials, sponsored by Women at the Table, a Washington County organization dedicated to elect women to public office.

A Girl Scout troop that attended asked questions and took notes, said Fay Shaffer, a member of WATT's board of directors.

"That's what it's all about, really. They are the future," Shaffer said.

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