First majority-women County Council elected

by Eliza Warren for Silver Chips (issuu)

On Nov. 8, six women were elected to the 11-member Montgomery County Council, marking the first time the council has ever been majority women. Marilyn Balcombe of District 2, Kristin Mink of District 5, and at-large representative Laurie-Anne Sayles replaced male incumbents. Meanwhile, Natali Fani-Gonzalez of District 6 and Dawn Luedtke of District 7 both represent newly created districts, and Kate Stewart of District 4 was the only elected member to succeed another woman, Nancy Navarro. All six women are Democrats.

The incoming councilmembers worked through challenging campaigns prior to being elected. Balcombe believes that she would have faced fewer struggles on the campaign trail if she were a man. "Every official who endorsed [a candidate] in my race endorsed me, and [yet] when I was raising money, I still had to convince people that I was a viable candidate," she said in an interview with Silver Chips. "I just don't think that would have happened if I had my (same resume) and was a male."

Luedtke dealt with harassment during her campaign. "I had one gentleman while I was out door knocking in Montgomery Village who told me I shouldn't dress the way I was dressed-which was in my campaign T-shirt and a skirt because men can't control their urges," she recalled in an interview.

Meanwhile, Mink felt that her gender and race put her safety at risk. “[I] got a death threat fairly early on that was pretty graphic and included my children and my husband. I certainly think that [it was sent] because I'm a woman of color and doing politics," she told Silver Chips.

Mink believes that the newly elected women will be able to bring a fresh perspective to county-wide policy decisions that directly affect women. "[Having] lived experience under a particular identity certainly give; you more of an insight into what folks [in] that background go through," she said. "I think that we will see more of a sense of urgency around certain issues that impact women more, and you'll see us coming together to work on those things."

As one of her priority agenda items focused on women, Balcombe plans to improve daycare standards in Montgomery County in order to allow women to return to jobs. "One of the [agenda priorities] that I would like to move on [for women] is early care and education. High quality daycare is really expensive, and if you're making minimum wage, you can't afford high quality daycare, [which means that] either [women] don't work and are staying at home when they would like to be working, or their children are in substandard daycare situations," she said.

Fani-Gonzalez plans to increase transportation safety in order to protect women. “[Transportation safety] deals with women and girls. The low-wage workers who are using the buses more are women, so making sure that the streets are safe to walk and bike directly affects women. Having vibrant communities where [women] can mobilize themselves and feel safe is important, she explained.

Meanwhile, Luedtke named investigating the effect of the pandemic on women's safety as one of her agenda priorities. "We had a period of time [during the pandemic] where people really couldn't file for protective orders or were stuck because houses were closed, and [I want to evaluate] how that's affecting the services that we provide for women and children who are in those types of situations and need support," she said.

Mink believes that the protection of housing rights, her top agenda priority, is an issue important for women, but also the county as a whole. "We see that ... single income households are more likely to be a mother with children, and those are heavily impacted by the rise in rents," she said. “Rent stabilization is an everyone issue, but it’s also a disproportionately women’s rights issue.”

Blair junior Goldie Siff believes that the new Council will better represent the women in Montgomery County. "[The majority women County Council] means that the decisions that the County Council makes will be more reflective upon the whole county now that there's more women involved," she said.

Read more from December's issue of Silver Chips at issuu.