Lt. Gov. Healey, Swift Headline Political Summit

Gin Dumcius

Scores of women who aspire to political office, have run for and won political office, have run for and lost political office, have run for, lost, and left political office, last Sunday and Monday converged at the JFK Library on Columbia Point.

The two-day summit was sponsored in part by UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at the John W. McCormack Graduate School for Policy Studies, as a means for women to get together and identify and develop ways of getting more women into elective office and higher levels of government.

“We had a sold-out audience,” said Carol Hardy-Fanta, director of the Center for Women in Politics. “Every seat is filled.” An estimated 500 people, mostly women, attended Sunday, and over 400 were there Monday. “It’s action-oriented-not just a conference,” said Hardy-Fanta, noting there are plans in the works to follow-up and track how women are doing.

Chancellor Jo Ann Gora was on hand to welcome everybody there on behalf of UMass Boston. There is still much work to be done in putting women in office, she said, citing the need to identify and recruit future women leaders. “We must support them with our time, our talents, and our checkbooks,” she said.

Gora introduced the speaker many had been waiting for-Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Both have backgrounds in criminology.

“Women need economic power,” said Healey, and to gravitate to issues like job creation and financial equality, instead of the traditionally percieved women’s issues of domestic violence, education, abortion, and child care. “All of these [goals on our agenda] will follow from economic power.

“We need to be talking about the economy. When we do that, we will become part of the mainstream.”

The days were punctuated with panel discussions and times where women came together to discuss strategies of getting into political office. Panelists included Former Acting Governor Jane Swift, United States Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Madeleine Kunin, former governor of Vermont and U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Dale Rogers Marshall, president of Wheatley College. There were also state treasurers, city councilors, and state senators.

Channel 5’s Jane Wu moderated the afternoon panel, entitled “Balancing a Political Career with a Personal Life.”

“To enter the public arena and have a public life is possible,” said Kunin. Jane Swift was also on the afternoon panel, bringing with her years of experience as a state senator, lieutenant governor, and the first female governor of Massachusetts. Currently, she works for the Boston venture capital firm Arcadia Partners.

Swift related a story of how she had a meeting with New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley after she had recused herself from the governor’s race last year. Bradley admitted to having the same problems she had of balancing work with family-he had to cancel an appearance because his daughter was sick. Swift, who had given birth to twins while in office, pointed out, however, that Bradley didn’t live with that reality every day. Because she was “extremely pregnant,” many issues arose. “I knew that on any given day, everybody wanted to know who was going to be shortchanged… whether work or family was suffering.”

Those are conflicts every working woman has-it’s not limited to politics,” said Kunin. “I felt a lot of pressure to do both well, because the cloud of being a ‘bad mother’ was always there.” Kunin also stated that to change the system, women have to get into politics.

“Abstinence, in this case, is not a virtue,” she said.

When asked by Wu if her political career would have been any different had she remained a state senator, Swift quipped, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have gotten to be governor.”

Said Swift, “I don’t regret [it] for a day… It was a unique experience and contributes to who I am today. I would do it the exact same way.”

As the panel pressed on, Judith Cicero, a former politician and community activist, sat in the back of the room and said she had been to many of these kinds of conferences, and this by far was one of the best ones, due to the diversity and the presence of people with experience. “This is excellent,” she said.