Female politicians from around the area talked about the obstacles they face and more at a panel discussion two weeks ago hosted by the Committee for Political Engagement.
“There will always be a challenge, but that’s what makes us stronger,” said Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, in perhaps the clearest distillation of the event’s message. “There are opportunities that comes from that. Women in politics, they go far.”
Dinolfo was joined by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, and Monroe County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Jamie Romeo.
The event was dedicated to the late Louise Slaughter, who represented New York’s 25th Congressional District. Slaughter had been invited to speak at the event, but she instead wrote a letter shortly before her passing that was read aloud.
When discussing their inspirations for taking a step into politics, some of panelists acknowledged the long legacy of female leadership in Monroe County. Mayor Warren alluded to the fact that the city has a history of being “progressive” and “forward thinking.” For Warren, the precedent set by Susan B. Anthony and female majority within Rochester’s city council are prime examples of female leadership.
The panelists addressed challenges they’ve faced, especially the idea that women must choose to either build a career or raise children.
Dinolfo expanded upon the challenges she faced as a young lawyer while trying to start a family. She told the audience stories about when she gave birth to children both in law school and while working on a major case. After her second child was born, she took two days off and that’s when she wrote her legal briefs.
For women to continue moving forward in politics, the panelists stressed the importance of compromise and not being afraid to reach across the aisle.
“Obviously the mayor and I are in different political parties,” Dinolfo said, adding after, “You don’t let obstacles stand in the way, and you look at that as opportunities.”
The mayor reflected on the 2016 presidential election.
“I have seen women come a long way in politics. I was really inspired in 2016 when Hillary Clinton was running for president where 10,000 people came out to see Susan B. Anthony’s grave,” Warren said. “That loss energized our community. That’s why a lot of women are starting to get more involved.”
Slaughter’s words, read aloud, reminded the panelists of the work ahead.
“When I was first elected to the Monroe County Legislature in 1975, I was one of only two women in the 20-member legislature,” Slaughter wrote. “I am proud that number has more than doubled today, but we still have far to go with election female leaders.”
Audience Asks Questions
After a set of questions prepared by the members of the Committee for Political Engagement, the audience was given a chance to question the panel.
“What is it that inspires you to persist?” asked senior Riva Yeo.
“It’s the people, the people in this community,” replied Dinolfo. “You had the incredible privilege working for Congresswoman Slaughter, and she embodied that. She knew it was always people first. And when you enter into the world of politics, and you are representing this community, that’s what motivates you.”
Senior Julia Deluca asked the panel how they plan on best supporting and empowering survivors of sexual harassment and domestic abuse in light of the past year’s scandal on campus.
“I think we need to make the criminal justice system accessible,” Doorley said in response. “We need to be supportive of the victims. We need to make victims feel like they are the victim in the case, not the defendant in the case. We need women to feel safe and to feel supported, but it needs to come from the entire system and the entire community. And I think we need to work on that.”
When asked about the #MeToo movement in general and how it has affected her, Doorley wished she had stood up on all the occasions when she was harassed by a male attorney.
Romeo felt a similar guilt.
“This movement scared me. I was not paying attention. I still have trouble with that,” Romeo said. “Should I have stepped up and said something? I didn’t want to rock the boat in that particular case.”
Warren encouraged young people to leave abusive situations before closing with a call to action:
“We have the ability to affect change. Each and everyone of us and that’s in the power of the ballot box. You have to pay attention encourage your classmates, encourage students from across the country to get involved and to vote,” she said. “College students, you have to look at issues that affect you and make sure that you are supporting candidates that are speaking about the challenges that you are having. You have a voice, so use it.”