Jump to:Page Content
The challenges faced by women running for Massachusetts mayoral seats and the motivation behind their decisions to run for office were the topics of discussion Monday (April 12) at Harvard Kennedy School. Lisa Wong and Kim Driscoll — the mayors of Fitchburg and Salem, respectively — shared their stories of success and the struggles along the way. The program was moderated by Victoria A. Budson, executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program.
The discussion — “On Her Honor: Is a New Generation of Women Mayors Changing the State's Oldest Cities?” — provided insight into two very different approaches to running for office as a woman. Wong — elected at the age of 28 — said gender was less of an impediment during her campaign, compared with the fact that she was not “native” to Fitchburg. Wong’s diligent and persistent campaign style, consisting of door-to–door visits for many months, convinced 75 percent of the voters to choose her over her opponent — a four-term city councilor.
To the contrary, gender was front and center in Driscoll’s election. Driscoll said that not only did she face the challenge of people in Salem questioning the validity of her skills because she is a woman, but she also came under scrutiny because of her role as a mother of three young children. However, Driscoll built a platform on these issues explaining that she was a working parent much like “your grand-daughter or your daughter-in-law.” Ultimately, she said, the voters wanted a professional manager to run the city, regardless of gender, and she was elected as the first female mayor in the city’s history.
Christine Letts, senior associate dean for Executive Education and Rita E. Hauser senior lecturer in the practice of philanthropy and nonprofit leadership, highlighted an overarching theme on the conversation about women’s motivation in running for elected office, calling it “a call to service rather than ego”.