The goal of “21 in ‘21,” which is led by council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is to elect at minimum 21 women to the legislative body by 2021. Currently, there are 13 women serving out of 51 council members, but four female legislators will be term-limited out next year.
“We know that in every single district in this city, there are talented and exceptional women who should be candidates for office,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. “’21 in ‘21’ will help find them, encourage them, help them understand the financial support they need and give them the structural guidance.”
Only seven seats will be open in next year’s city election, but 38 seats will be up for grabs in 2021, when a majority of council members are forced out of office by term limts. Officials said they hope that’s when more women will have a chance to win.
“Women need to be in the front and center of the decision-making process around public policy,” Mark-Viverito said. “Yet, there are times at important meetings when I’m still the only woman at the table.”
While details of the exact structure of the initiative are in developing stages, officials said its role will be to recruit, encourage, guide and educate prospective candidates, rather than giving money directly.
Crowley said it will give women a platform to raise their visibility so more New Yorkers can donate to candidates, enabling them to benefit from the city’s matching-funds system.
“When I ran for the City Council the first time, I wasn’t able to win,” Crowley said. “That’s the real truth when it comes to a lot of women who run for office for the first time.”
Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents Lower Manhattan, said it took her four tries to win her seat. When she was elected in 2010, there were 18 women in the City Council.
“I thought we would continue to grow, but sadly, the numbers are going down,” she said, adding that having women lead means “getting things done” for their communities.
To get the program up and running, good government group EffectiveNY has pledged $25,000 to the initiative. Bill Samuels, who leads EffectiveNY, said the effort will help lessen corruption, produce better and more moral legislation and encourage more women to enter public service.
“In New York State, from the top leadership down to our county leaders, it is a male culture,” Samuels said. “This isn’t just about electing women. It’s about changing the culture. It’s about changing the leadership in our counties and our legislatures.”
Mark-Viverito added that municipal government serves as a pipeline to the federal level, where decisions like access to reproductive rights are made. She said the current Congress has already made moves “anti-women and anti-women’s reproductive health.”
“It’s men making decisions that they have absolutely no understanding of,” she said. “I can assure you that if that Congress were made up of 50 percent women or more, you would not see that happening.”
So far, “21 in ‘21” has already hosted events to support candidates running in this year’s election, including two candidates in Manhattan and two candidates in the Bronx.
Bronx candidate Amanda Farias currently serves as a special events director for Councilwoman Crowley.
“This is a crucial endeavor,” said Elizabeth Holtzman, who in 1972 was the youngest woman elected to Congress and the first woman to serve as city comptroller and Brooklyn district attorney. “Women make up more than half the population of New York City, and they’re entitled to a seat at the table. It’s not going to happen without the help of other elected women and men who care.
“Seeing other women achieve the highest pinnacle is an inspiration to women who never dreamed in their lives that they could reach for the stars,” Holtzman added. “Having women in positions of power makes a huge difference. This gives women a vision of possibility.”