ST. PAUL, Minn. — St. Paul made history on Tuesday with its newly minted all-women city council.
The seven-member body is all under the age of 40 and is racially diverse — a majority are women of color. Residents and other elected officials packed the Ordway Center downtown to celebrate the milestone and witness their swearing in.
It's a moment receiving national attention, too, as St. Paul is the first U.S. city of its size — with more 300,000 people living there —to have a city council made up of all women, according to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which keeps track of women holding elected office at every level of government.
There are few smaller communities who have councils that are all women, but that's still rare, said the center's associate director, Jean Sinzdak. She noted that only 32 percent of municipal officeholders across the country are women. And women of color are even more underrepresented.
"If you compare that, it's not just sort of bucking the trend, it's blowing it right out of the water," Sinzdak said. "So it's a big moment."
The significance is not lost on the council members, who toldthat they recognize the responsibility of their new leadership positions. Some said their priorities include affordable housing, access to child care and ensuring roads are plowed properly when it snows.
Mitra Jalali, council president-designate, joked that when all seven members were getting their offices ready last week, it felt like being part of "Barbie,"based on the iconic doll that creates a world where only women are in charge.
She vowed that the council would deliver city services and rectify "the past wrongs that still impact our community."
"This new class of leader sends a clear message from St. Paul voters, I believe, to the whole world," Jalali said. "We trust the leadership of these women. We believe in their personal and professional experiences and vision — philanthropic and policy leaders, executive directors of nonprofits, an engineer. Wow."
The nearly two-hour ceremony also included remarks from Mayor Melvin Carter, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, musical performances and a spoken word poem from a local resident.
Sinzdak with the Center for Women and Politics said it's important that women see themselves in their government because of the "role model effect" that motivates the next generation of diverse leaders to run for office. One of the barriers is for many years women were not recruited to be candidates, contributing to the perception that women can't win, she added.
But this is the clearest example of their electability.
"The significance cannot be overstated, and how important this moment is for the city and country," Sinzdak said. "It's hopefully a bellwether for the future. And it really gives us a lot of hope in the goal of achieving a representative democracy."
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