Chicago’s 2019 mayoral race is young. But sexism in politics, as my mother would say, is as old as water.
Sexism was bound to emerge in a contest with a diverse and impressive cadre of five female candidates. There are more accomplished and credible women running for mayor than ever.
They bring hefty experience in executive, policy-making and legislative roles.
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the most recent entry, previously served two terms as Chicago city clerk and six terms in the Illinois Legislature.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the first African-American and woman to chair the Cook County Democratic Party, was Hyde Park’s alderman for nearly two decades.
Dorothy Brown, a lawyer, certified public accountant and MBA, is in her fifth term as Cook County’s clerk of the circuit court.
Lori Lightfoot, a former president of the Chicago Police Board and federal prosecutor, left her job as a partner at the law firm Mayer Brown to run for mayor.
Amara Enyia, also a lawyer, holds a PhD in education policy, has worked as a public policy consultant and is executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
All five are women in charge. All are a threat to the status quo. Women are running for office in record numbers. That unnerves some old boys to no end.
So on the run-up to Mendoza’s mayoral announcement, I wasn’t surprised when the headline popped up on my Facebook page:
“If Boss Madigan and Rahm Emanuel conceived a daughter, she’d be Susana Mendoza.”
The piece was written by the lead columnist at Chicago’s other daily.
“Don’t you dare tell me it’s scientifically impossible,” he wrote with trademark snideness. “That’s small-minded of you, and I might file hate-crime charges.”
Mendoza is a creation and the “political daughter” of her political daddies, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, he wrote.
To portray an accomplished, savvy woman with 20 years in politics as the Frankenstein monster love child of two men is as sexist as it gets.
Once Mendoza formally announced, retiring 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz told the Chicago Sun-Times “she’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the HDO organization. …”
HDO, the Hispanic Democratic Organization, was the now-defunct Latino political machine founded at the behest of Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Munoz and other Latino progressives abhor HDO.
Every woman in this race will be dogged by such tropes.
Women can’t get anywhere, or do anything, without the men, or so it goes. The men give the orders. The men tell them when to start and where to go.
Yes, Mendoza and all the other women in this race have been supported and aided by men. Men in politics, especially white men, still control the vast majority of power and institutions here and most everywhere else.
To get things done, women leaders must, and should, work with men. And then out-work them.
They are not spawned, created or owned.
Kathy Byrne, Mendoza’s campaign chair, said it best. She is the daughter of Chicago’s first and only woman mayor, “Fighting” Jane Byrne.
Mendoza “has got some strength [to stand up] against all the bullyboys,” she told the Sun-Times’ Michael Sneed, “and I look forward to fighting on her behalf for the people of Chicago.”
I look forward to seeing all the women take on the bullyboys.
Follow Laura Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish
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