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Women At The Table want more women in office

August 14, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

To understand how far women in politics have come in Washington County, Pat Cushwa points to her run for the Williamsport Town Council in 1974.

Cushwa, who was the mistress of ceremonies at a picnic sponsored Thursday evening to promote women candidates, said she faced resistance to the idea that a woman might hold public office.

"Men would say to me, 'I like you, but I would never vote for you,'" said Cushwa, who is chairwoman of the Maryland Parole Commission and a former state senator.

"And women would say, 'It depends on who my husband is voting for,'" she said.

When she won, Cushwa said she found out it was the result of a protest vote.

"We'll show you, we'll put a women in office," she said.

Cushwa said such attitudes "have all but disappeared."

But two decades later, the number of women who hold high elective offices in Washington County remains small.

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That's why women activists in the county formed Women At The Table two years ago.

Designed to encourage women to run for office, the organization has sponsored seminars and forums to achieve that goal.

This year, a record number of women are running for county offices.

"County government has been woefully lacking in women representatives. We're hoping to create an attitude to change that," said Judy Lyons Wolf, co-chairwoman of Women At The Table.

Wolf said women have been reluctant to seek public office in past years.

"I think there was a heavy atmosphere of a good-old-boy network," she said.

Cushwa said it has been harder for women to get elected because women traditionally were not appointed to the kinds of offices candidates use as launching pads to higher ones.

Sue Tuckwell, a Washington County Commissioners candidate who has held a number of appointed positions in community organizations, said that kind of experience is important for both women and men.

"You have to run on some kind of record," she said.

Despite the sparse record of elected offices, Cushwa said women have served political parties and civic organizations for years.

"What we mostly served was chicken, baked beans and coleslaw," she said.

About 120 people attended Thursday's picnic off Md. 63. Many were candidates - both men and women.

Women At The Table leaders said they were encouraged by the turnout. N. Sharon Leatherman, a co-chairwoman of the group, said across the country women make up a majority of the population and registered voters, control a majority of the nation's wealth and have started a majority of the small businesses in recent years.

"For all those reasons, women need to have some representation in government," she said.

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