Denver may not have been ready to elect its first woman to serve as mayor, but a majority of large Jefferson County municipalities may have female leads by the end of the year. That could be a big step forward for Colorado.
The dean of JeffCo mayors, Nancy McNally, has been an integral part of Westminster for decades. She has served as mayor multiple times since the early 2000s and is one of the finest public servants in the state. I have had the chance to work with her on several occasions over the years and have been impressed each and every time.
It is no wonder other women have followed suit.
In Golden, Laura Weinberg is running for re-election after a successful bid in 2019. Confronted by the COVID pandemic just as she began her term, Weinberg helped protect Golden residents while also ensuring that local businesses had the support to survive.
Now Lakewood and Arvada look to join the club. Last week a friend invited me to a fundraiser for Wendi Strom (Lakewood) and Lauren Simpson (Arvada). Lakewood has not had a woman leading the city since Linda Morton left office at the end of the last millennium. Arvada has never elected a woman as mayor.
After spending a couple hours hearing their stump speeches and watching them interact with voters, it would surprise me if both do not win in November. Smart, strong, and personable, both seem ready to lead on day one.
Strom has two opponents in her race. One a first-time candidate and the other who lost a city council race by six points in 2019. At the same time, Strom rolled to a plurality in a heated four-person race and has been working tirelessly since. It is by no means a sure bet for Strom, but she begins in a position of strength.
Monopolizing Strom’s time for the better part of half-an-hour, it became apparent she does not take her electoral strength for granted. She has been engaged in the candidate tango whirling from fundraiser to meet and greet to door knocking and community meetings. It is the kind of work ethic that makes the difference between a strong campaign and a winning campaign.
Simpson is as striking for confidence as she is for her ability to engage constituents. She gave a personal and compelling stump speech that would put some of the top politicos in the state to shame. She was at her best when she expressed how the unhoused epidemic had personally affected her life through a family member. She was authentic and empathetic at the same time.
Simpson even expressed respect for her city council colleague and opponent in the mayoral race. That is down-right shocking in this day and age.
If Weinberg, Strom and Simpson win, four of the largest municipalities in the west Metro region will be run by women. That should be a source of pride and optimism for JeffCo. It should be an example for the rest of Colorado.
We have yet to elect a woman to either the U.S. Senate or governor’s office. The highest elected offices held by women statewide have been Attorney General (twice), state Treasurer (four times), and Secretary of State (six times). But none have ascended any higher.
Given the leadership shown by women on the local level, that needs to change.
The positive effects should be too great to ignore. Not only in terms of role models for other women to aspire, but in tempering the often-polarizing environment the male-led model has created. Obviously it is a trap women can fall into as well — look no further than Colorado’s West Slope congressional embarrassment and her continual vitriol — but the vast majority have proved the value that diversity delivers.
It is not as if Colorado is opposed to the idea, either. In 2016 voters picked Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by nearly five points. They delivered the vice presidency to Kamala Harris as Joe Biden’s running mate by more than double that margin.
Coloradans obviously understand that good women are not just capable leaders, but they can be exceptional. It should be self-evident in 2023, but still it somehow seems to be an illusive truth. Lingering stereotypes and double standards still permeate our electoral process. Often the unintentional and unconscious discrimination is the most difficult to uproot.
With leaders like McNally and Weinberg, and candidates like Strom and Simpson, chipping away at those biases, though, they should not stand for too much longer. By simply being excellent in their roles, they will help move our state toward a more inclusive reality.
While neither Denver nor Colorado has quite made that shift, neither can ignore the noise made by leading women in JeffCo. Soon enough they should help us all smash that glass ceiling.
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