- Kinga Rajzak
New York City bill to help mothers run for office
By Kinga Rajzak
NEW YORK - In May, New York City Council introduced a bill allowing primary caregivers to use campaign funds for childcare expenses when running for city office – a legislation set to come into effect by the end of 2018.
The city’s bill was inspired by congressional candidate, Liuba Grechen Shirley’s May victory before the Federal Election Commission, which ruled that the mother of two may spend campaign donations on childcare during her run for New York’s second district seat in Congress. The City Council measure replicates the FEC’s landmark decision and applies it to local elections, a move to encourage any primary caregiver of children – mainly women – to run for New York City office.
“I have a ten-month old son, so I know it is very hard to balance family life and a political career,” said Laurie A. Cumbo, the council majority leader and co-author of the childcare spending bill. “We must create an environment where more women feel supported to partake in politics.”
Women hold only 11 seats of the 51-member City Council compared with 13 women last year. In fact, the number of women serving on the Council has decreased since the early 2000s, when the number was consistently about 17 or 18.
An August 2017 New York City’s Women’s Caucus report found, that male leaders are less willing to recruit women for office, while Women and Politics Institute at American University revealed that women tend to think that they would be incompetent to navigate a male dominated arena such as politics. The report also uncovered that women feel pressed to conform to old gender roles that don’t include certain career opportunities.
“It is harder to recruit women because of inherent historical bias, ” said Keith Powers, council member of Midtown and Murray Hill. “The challenges affecting women may not exist for everybody else.”
Cumbo said, the administration’s policies and the latest social events across the nation, including the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, exposed the power imbalances between men and women, and prompted the New York City Council to formulate a bill that would encourage women to run for office.
“We cannot sit still anymore,” said Powers. “Now there is galvanization around women.”
Cumbo and Powers drafted the bill together and introduced it during a rally at City Hall on Mother’s Day.
The bill will allow the use of campaign funds, but not public money for certain childcare costs for children under thirteen, for whom the candidate is the primary caregiver.
The City Council voted unanimous for the bill, and on June 19 presented it to the City’s Governmental Operations’ hearing for additional review.
The bill will be submitted to the council for a final vote this fall, and signed into law by the end of the year.
“What we did here in New York City, could be a great precedent that could be replicated throughout the state, the country and other municipalities,” said Powers, hoping that the City’s legislation would have an impact across the nation.
However Cumbo was skeptical and doubted that the bill would get codified on a federal level.
“Not during this administration,” she said. “If you look at Trump and his cabinet they roll back legislation that are there to benefit women.”
Cumbo continues to be hopeful, and said if constituents got together and communities along with city officials backed this bill, then it would have an impact nationwide.
Brett Kappel, governmental affairs and public policy expert said in an e-mail that it “would be a long overdue clarification of the law” to help women gain more political visibility in the United States.
He said, that a nationwide bill which allows the use of campaign funds for childcare, would alleviate “one of the major barriers that have historically discouraged more women from running for public office.”