Home>Campaigns>More women elected to local, county office last year but growth slows

Rebecca Estell Bourgeois Winston, a 38-year-old Democrat, became New Jersey's first woman mayor when she was elected in Estell Manor in 1925. (Photo: Noyes Museum of Art).

More women elected to local, county office last year but growth slows

Center for American Women in Politics says just 15 women gained local office between 2020 and 2021

By Nikita Biryukov, June 22 2021 10:26 am

The number of women elected to local and county officer in New Jersey rose again in 2021, but its growth marked a slowdown from gains seen last year, according to analysis by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.

CAWP’s analysis found eight more women became mayors and two more became county commissioners in the Garden State, but women’s representation on councils and other local governing bodies slowed to a trickle.

“It’s discouraging to see such plodding progress for women here in New Jersey,” said Jean Sinzdak, the associate director of the CAWP.   “But in a state where political opportunities are so tightly controlled by the parties, it’s really incumbent upon party leaders to redouble their efforts in candidate recruiting and support to help make New Jersey’s governing bodies representative of the communities they serve.”

Just 15 more women gained local office between 2020 and 2021, down from the 68 new seats marked in CAWP’s 2020 report.

The figures leave women as a clear and sometimes overwhelming minority in elected office.

They represent just 18% of the state’s mayors, 35% of its county commissioners and 30% of local governing bodies.

“It’s discouraging to see such plodding progress for women here in New Jersey,” said CAWP Associate Director Jean Sinzdak, “but in a state where political opportunities are so tightly controlled by the parties, it’s really incumbent upon party leaders to redouble their efforts in candidate recruiting and support to help make New Jersey’s governing bodies representative of the communities they serve.”

The number of women on county governing bodies has been trending upward since 2008, when their representation on freeholder boards dropped to 21%, but gains in local office have been slower. Women’s share of the state’s mayorships has remained largely level since 2006, hovering around 15%.

At 18%, their representation is the highest it’s been in at least 18 years, according to CAWP data.

Though it lost one woman mayor in the last year, Union County held top spots for representation among mayors and county commissioners.

Nine of the county’s 21 mayors are women, down from 10 last year. That means they hold 43% of mayoralties in the county, fully 15 percentage points above Burlington County, where women hold 28% of mayorships.

Three counties — Warren, Hudson and Cumberland — each had a single woman mayor.

Women made up the majority of county commissions in Union, Somerset and Bergen Counties. Men hold all five seats on Salem’s County Commission.

Council representation was similar. Mercer placed first with women holding 44% of its council seats, followed by Somerset with 39% and Hudson and Middlesex with 36% each. Union was fifth with 34%.

They held less than a quarter of council seats in five counties — Cape May, Sussex, Atlantic, Salem and Cumberland, where they accounted for just 13% of membership among local governing bodies.

Source: Center for American Women in Politics.
Source: Center for American Women in Politics.
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