As a moderator for a recent D.C. mayoral candidates forum, I had a chance to watch D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis and former Potomac Electric Power Co. vice president Sharon Pratt Dixon in action up close. They were far more exciting than any of their male counterparts, with fresher views projected in a tough yet compassionate manner.
While D.C. Council Chairman and Democratic mayoral candidate David Clarke needed a notebook chock-full of facts and figures to answer voters' questions, the women spoke with spontaneity, radiating passion and purpose.
Too bad they didn't wear pants, I thought. What else, other than their sex, would explain why the women weren't being taken more seriously in their quests for mayor?
Both remain at the bottom of the financial contributions list, with Jarvis (D-Ward 4) reporting $172,091 as of last month. Dixon reported $170,000.
By contrast, D.C. Council member John Ray (D-At Large) reported $689,679; Chairman Clarke, $240,000; former D.C. police chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. (R), $205,684; and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D), $184,418.
"Part of the problem is that women just aren't seen as executives," bemoans Wendy Sherman, executive director of EMILY's List, a Washington-based organization that helps raise funds for Democratic women running for Congress. "To be mayor, you have to be tough and aggressive, yet those very characteristics in a woman are seen as bitchy, obnoxious or unfeminine."
The voters of Washington ought to take a hard look at this contradiction and demolish it. In a city dominated by the maleness of the federal military- bureaucratic complex, a great wealth of female talent is being repressed and squandered.
Why is it okay for women to be D.C. Council members, but not council chairman? The city even takes pride in D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's bevy of brainiacs, those behind-the-scenes women who have held the District government together while he stands trial on drug and perjury charges.
But why should women be content to derive influence from their proximity to men with power, either as "wives of" or as those who "work for," when they could be in charge? To finally have a woman as head of the District government would go a long way, I believe, toward forcing men in this city to begin looking at women as equals.
And even if it only curbed the rampant sexual harassment of women in District government, that would be reason enough to have a Ms. Mayor.
"The fact is that women are the majority of the population in our city," says Jarvis. "Over half of the women in the work force are single parents who are heads of households. We must put priorities, policies and programs in place that recognize these facts and address our needs."
Says Dixon, "It is that 'old boy network' approach to problems that has the city in the sad state it is in, with our children paying the price of failure.
"We need a political genesis, a renaissance in which masculine politics and the 'dog eat dog' mentality that earmarked it, is replaced by a feminine kind of politics in which you do what is right, not what is expedient."
What's more, a woman mayor would be far less likely to embarrass the city with constant allegations of misconduct. Unfair as the double standard is, the fact remains that no woman would have ever survived months, let alone years, of allegations of sexual impropriety and drug use.
Perhaps the tightest rope for them to walk will be cutting deals without selling out or appearing to become imitators of the "male oppressor." Already Jarvis has come under searing attacks from Dixon for seeking the endorsement of Barry, whom Dixon has called on to resign.
Ultimately, it will be women voters -- who outnumber men by as much as 3 to 1 in some neighborhoods -- who will decide if Washington gets its first female mayor. To that end, I humbly submit, women would do well to examine their attitudes toward women.
If one characteristic threatens to undermine the potential of women in Washington, it is female suspicion of each other -- often because of jealousy over some man.
If that obstacle can be overcome, and Jarvis and Dixon can continue reaching out to women, the reformation of District politics will be closer at hand than the latest financial statements suggest. With the election of either of them as mayor, the city could expect a bold new start, with children once again becoming a priority.