The off-year elections brought a large number of women into office on the local and state levels, showing that voters are growing accustomed to them as public officials, the chairwoman of the National Women's Political Caucus said yesterday.

Irene Natividad, analyzing Tuesday's returns for the caucus, said she is "just delighted" with the results, which include a fourth term as Houston mayor for Kathy Whitmire and election of the first black women state senators in Virginia and Mississippi.

Natividad said a trend that started two years ago, in which more women were seeking local and state office than a national seat, continued in this year's elections.

The gains in mayoral races nationwide were a key factor, Natividad said.

"Being mayor of a large city is seen as far more glamorous, far more doable, with a woman candidate's record in local affairs standing her in good stead," she said.

There now are 96 female mayors of cities larger than 30,000 people, Natividad said -- and with Whitmire's reelection there are at least nine women mayors in Texas alone.

Such numbers, she said, create a substantial "pipeline" of solid candidates for governors mansions or for the House or Senate -- "And it's a good jumping-off point for a lot of presidential candidates, too."

In Hartford, Conn., Democrat Carrie Saxon-Perry was elected New England's first black woman mayor. In Charlotte, N.C., Republican Sue Myrick was elected the city's first female mayor, defeating two-term incumbent Mayor Harvey Gantt, Charlotte's first black mayor and a key figure in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.

In Toledo, Ohio, Mayor Donna Owens beat back a challenge from Democrat Carty Finkbeiner. She is the city's first Republican chief executive to win three straight terms in more than a century.

"We're beginning to see that to a large extent race and gender are not a barrier," Natividad said. "Voters are becoming more accustomed to women holding office."