Perhaps it has not yet reached the status of a "trend," but something fairly new is happening in electoral politics.
An increasing number of women -- particularly African-American women -- are getting elected to office across the United States. And many of them have defeated male challengers who were favored to win.
Two recent elections attest to the growing popularity of African-American women in politics. One, of course, is the recent overwhelming victory for Sharon Pratt Dixon, who easily defeated two African-American male hopefuls to become the first black female mayor of Washington, D.C., joining another African-American woman, Carrie Saxon-Perry, who easily won a second term last year as mayor of Hartford, Conn. Also in the D.C., election, outgoing Mayor Marion Barry, who hoped to win one of the two available at-large City Council seats, came in a distant third to two female candidates, Hilda Mason and Linda Cropp.
As expected, Jesse Jackson won one of the non-voting unpaid "shadow" Senate seats from D.C.; a black woman, Florence Pendleton, one the other. But, more surprisingly, a black woman, civil-rights activist Eleanor Holmes Norton, easily defeated Harry Singleton in the race for the non-voting D.C. delegate to Congress, despite revelations that she and her husband had paid no local income taxes for seven years.
On the West Coast, voters this fall elected Maxine Waters, an activist for black and women's causes, to succeed California Democrat Gus Hawkins.
"What is happening is that, through a maturation and educational process, the black electorate has found a viable alternative to black male leadership -- and that is a viable black female leadership," said Atlanta-based pollster Harry L. Ross. "The black electorate is becoming more comfortable with black female leadership, that it is just as expert and valuable as black male expertise and leadership."
There is even a suggestion by some political observers that the increasing number of successful African-American female candidates is partly attributable to the highly publicized scandals some black elected officials have faced in recent years. With a growing concern about the impact of these scandals upon the black community, African-American voters in various parts of the country may be somewhat disillusioned with their black male candidates. So, some pundits add, they may be more willing to invest their trust in a viable black female candidate.
Ross says that Atlanta, particularly its City Council, is reflecting the electorate's increasing swing toward women. In last year's election, two women who were not given a chance by most political observers, Devetta Johnson and Sheila Brown, won their respective bids for seats on the 18-seat Atlanta City Council, which now includes seven women, four black and three white. In addition, white female candidates are faring as well, if not better, than black male candidates in this majority black city. In fact, no African-American challenger has been able to defeat at-large Atlanta City Councilwoman Barbara Asher in the past decade. She was unopposed in the last election, testimony to her strength of support among the black electorate.
Also in Atlanta, Leah Sears Collins became the first black woman in the last election to win a countywide election for a judgeship in the county's Superior Court.
With the growing political strength among women expected to increase in Atlanta, Ross predicts that the next mayor of Atlanta, after current mayor, Mayolitics
nard Jackson, retires after this term or his final second term, will be a woman. The leading candidate at this point to succeed Jackson, Ross adds, "is City Councilwoman Myrtle Davis," now chairwoman of the Atlanta City Council's finance committee.
"What is happening in Atlanta in terms of an increasing presence of elected black women is a glimpse of what we could be seeing down the road nationwide," Ross believes.
Ironically, besides the injection of last-minute racist campaign ads by Sen. Jesse Helms, one other factor helped defeat Harvey Gantt in his bid to unseat Helms in North Carolina and become the first African-American U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction. That factor, not much publicized during the campaign, was Gantt's loss to a woman in his bid for another term as mayor of Charlotte, N.C.
As one political pundit put it, "If a black female had ran against Jesse Helms in North Carolina, we likely would have seen the toppling of Jesse Helms. The one thing that was against Gantt was that he lost his re-election bid to a woman, so he went into the senatorial campaign with a political liability."
Although some black male elected officials have won seats in recent elections -- including John C. Daniels, who became the first black mayor of New Haven, Conn., and Norman Rice, who also last year became the first black mayor of Seattle -- the visibility of African-American women on the political scene has been rapidly enhanced in recent years.
For African-American males, this may mean that their progress in politics depends not only on breaking through white political barriers but working harder to ensure that the increased viability of their female counterparts does not make them an endangered political species.