Opinion

Women take charge on the mayoral front | Klaas

As we turn the page on 2013 and start a new year, one storyline worth following will be how local female mayors perform and shape the fortunes of their communities.

Suzette Cooke of Kent, Nancy Backus of Auburn and Leanne Guier of Pacific will work to advance their agendas as their cities try to gain traction in an uncertain, slow-moving economy. It is the first time that women will occupy the top job in these three valley cities at the same time.

In Kent, Cooke did enough to convince voters that she was worthy of a third term. A proven leader, Cooke is direct, blunt, and passionate. Disagree if you will with some of her decisions, Cooke has helped Kent weather a tough economic storm. The recession bit municipalities hard.

Cooke deserves a thumbs-up for pressing and placing flood preventative measures along the Green River. She also launched the Neighborhood Councils program to improve Kent communities, embraced cultural diversity and managed a responsible budget.

Some may argue, but Cooke's administration has lowered the crime rate and improved police service.But without much state and federal help, Kent is stuck in the same predicament as other valley cities. It has been unable to repair its deteriorating, crowded roads. Businesses, big and small, continue to suffer. The ShoWare Center, a prized entertainment venue, has become an albatross around the City's neck.

Cooke, with her experience and ties to state movers and shakers, has to find solutions.

In Auburn, Backus narrowly became the city's first female mayor in its 120-year history. She follows Pete Lewis, who, like Cooke, performed admirably in the throes of a brutal recession.

Like Cooke, Backus must resolve a bad-roads problem even as she advances downtown redevelopment and ushers in new business throughout Auburn.Auburn is in good hands with Backus. She is smart, familiar with the landscape and passionate about people and their plights. She has served on the City Council since 2004, occupying key committee and alliance-building roles. A 25-year employee of The Boeing Company, she worked as a financial operations manager. That should come in handy when managing a complex, tight City budget.

Guier's situation is different but no less significant. She took over when former mayor Cy Sun was recalled in June and has helped pick up the pieces of a small city left in financial ruins. The affable Guier has opened up channels of communications and worked tirelessly to help rebuild Pacific's reputation and vitality.

It hasn't been easy, but Guier's careful, effective ways will make Pacific better in the long run.

Three women. Three tough jobs. Plenty of promise.

As Cooke, Backus and Guier show, more women are getting into the mayoral business. The valley is just a microcosm of what has gone on elsewhere.

It was a good year for female mayors in 2013. Women in a number of U.S. cities won election or reelection as mayors.

In New York, three of the state's largest cities – Albany, Rochester and Syracuse – elected women as mayors. Houston reelected Annise Parker. Minneapolis chose Betsy Hodges. Dayton, Ohio went with Nan Whaley.

Suffern, N.Y., Cape Coral, Fla., Moorhead, Minn., Norwich, Conn., and Cedar City, Utah are among smaller cities that will welcome their first female mayors in January.

Closer to home, Bremerton reelected Patty Lent.

Bellingham's first woman mayor, Kelli Linville, took office in 2012.

Marilyn Strickland assumed the Tacoma office in 2010.

Women deserve a shot. Historically, they haven't been given the opportunity.

In 1926, Bertha Knight Landes became Seattle's first female mayor and the first woman mayor of a major American city. There hasn't been a female mayor since in the Emerald City.

A good-government crusader, Landes fought police corruption and lawless activity. She worked hard against bootleggers and reckless drivers and strictly enforced regulations for dance halls and cabarets. The Civic Auditorium, later renovated as the Seattle Opera House, is one of her accomplishments. She appointed qualified professionals to head city departments, improve public transportation and parks, and put the city's finances in order.

Today, the largest meeting room at Seattle City Hall is named in her honor. The tunnel-boring machine used to construct the two-mile Alaskan Way-Viaduct replacement tunnel under downtown Seattle was nicknamed "Bertha" after her.

Women make up more than half of the population in the United States but are under-represented in federal, state and local offices.

For whatever reason, women in politics bring a different perspective, an ability to negotiate and compromise than do their male counterparts.

Women have much to contribute to politics. Given the opportunity, let's see what they can do for us.

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