Cracking the mayoral glass ceiling


INDIANAPOLIS — The toughest job in the world is being president of the United States. And the second? Being the mayor of just about any city.

Mayors are held accountable by voters for everything from public safety, economic development, to making sure sewers work and the garbage is picked up. They rally their cities during blizzards and recessions, and after tornadoes.

Greg Goodnight was the three-term mayor of Kokomo and now does municipal consulting. He was advising a mayor from northern Indiana and she begged off a conversation to deal with, as she put it, “A cat in a tree.”

This was not a euphemism for another dilemma. “There was, literally, a cat in a tree,” Goodnight said.

Hoosier voters in cities will go to the polls in the May primary, and, again, in November. I always look for trends, and in February I reported that there are at least 35 cities where only Republican candidates have filed, including Jeffersonville, Noblesville, Bedford and Columbus. There are 10 cities where only Democrats have filed for mayor, including Hammond, Elkhart, Lafayette, West Lafayette.

The other notable trend is cities where the glass ceiling will, or could, be broken. In Evansville, Democrat Stephanie Terry will face one of two Republicans, Vanderburgh County Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave or Natalie Rascher, guaranteeing the city will have its first female mayor in history.

Goshen is another city that may be poised to crash the glass ceiling, after Democrat Mayor Jeremy Stutsman abruptly resigned last week to lead a the LaCasa not-for-profit. He endorsed Gina Leichty to finish his term and run in November. Republicans William L. Gard Jr. and William “Bill” Malone are also seeking the nomination.

“Over the last few years, Gina Leichty and I have worked closely on various projects, and I’ve encouraged her to consider running for office. She has strong community connections, spent years bringing people together, demonstrates strong organization and leadership skills, and will keep the city management team together,” Stutsman said. “Like me, Gina is less interested in politics than in working together to get the job done.”

Evansville is just one of several big Indiana cities which have never elected a female mayor. This includes Indianapolis, South Bend, Anderson, Fort Wayne, East Chicago, Hammond, and Jeffersonville. Cosette Simon served as mayor of Fort Wayne for 11 days after then-Mayor Win Moses was forced from office after pleading guilty to a campaign finance charge. He was returned to office by caucus. Indiana’s second largest city has never elected a female mayor.

According to the Represent Women organization, women make up 50% of the U.S. population, yet represent only 27% of the U.S. House seats and 24% of the U.S. Senate. Women make up 31% of all state legislators, and 23% of mayors of cities with populations of more than 30,000 people. According to Women For Change in Indiana, while Indiana women from both parties gained seats in the newest General Assembly, Indiana still ranks 30th nationally for gender parity in politics.

Indianapolis has had two female candidates — Republican Virginia Blankenbaker and Democrat Melina Kennedy — but both lost. This means if State Rep. Robin Shackleford can upset Mayor Joe Hosgett next month, she could become the first female mayor out of 50 in history. “As I weighed my decision to run, fueled by close friends and family, some asked me why I was even considering it,” Shackleford said during her campaign kick-off. “I have a fulfilling, successful tenure of service in the Indiana General Assembly. It came down to one phrase that kept running through my head: ‘We can do better.’”

Of the top five most populated cities in the U.S., three — Karen Bass in Los Angeles, Lori Lightfoot in Chicago and Kate Gallego in Phoenix — are headed by females, though Mayor Lightfoot lost her reelection bid in the Democratic primary last February after one term.

According to the Monroe County NOW website, the first female Hoosier mayor was Mary Jancosek Bercik of Whiting, who in 1957 completed the term of her husband, who died of a heart attack. She then won a full-term.

Indiana cities which have elected female mayors since then include Bloomington, Carmel, Columbus, Gary, Greencastle, Richmond, Elkhart, Charlestown, Portage, Frankfort, Martinsville, Kendallville, New Albany, West Lafayette, Muncie, Mishawaka, LaPorte, Michigan City, and Zionsville.

But it’s notable that female mayors of Elkhart, Muncie, Columbus and now Zionsville lasted just one term.

One of the first elected was Mishawaka Republican Mayor Maggie Prickett, who ran and won in 1963 before serving for 16 years. Mary K. Kase, who was Prickett’s neighbor for 30 years and her first mayoral secretary, said few people gave her a chance to win. “She didn’t sneak in. She roared in. She carried the entire Republican ticket with her,” Kase told the South Bend Tribune. “After years of Democratic control at City Hall, she swept in.”

Mayor Prickett said in a 1969 article, “Women have to earn their way. Let’s face it, men are a little reluctant to put them in higher office. They’re afraid they’ll have a problem child on their hands. They can’t be boastful, no matter what they’ve done.”


The columnist is managing editor of Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs at Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.