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Women Hit the Campaign Trail for New York City Council


DALTON: Carlina Rivera looks polished in her black slacks and paisley blouse. That’s in sharp contrast to where she’s standing right now: just outside the Jacob Riis (REESE) Houses. A public housing project along Avenue D. The paint on the walls is peeling. And the lock on the front door is broken.

RIVERA: The doors are almost always open in the buildings (DOOR SLAM) one of the biggest complaints I receive going around talking to people is that they feel unsafe. The door’s open, anyone can come in.

DALTON: Safety is just one of many reasons Rivera decided to run for New York City Council.  If elected, she’d replace Rosie Mendez and represent District 2. Which includes neighborhoods like Gramercy Park, Kips Bay and all of the East Village, including the Jacob Riis Houses.

DALTON: Rivera takes the elevator up to 13th floor. And knocks on her first door.

RIVERA: I’m Carlina Rivera, I’m running for City Council…

DALTON: The door opens. And Rivera sees a face she recognizes.

RIVERA: I know you from a poll site at one of the schools

DALTON: They hug. The woman’s excited to see her.

RESIDENT: You definitely got my vote (laugh)

DALTON: There’s a familiarity Rivera brings to each conversation. She lives in the same building where she grew up. Just a few blocks from here. And she’s also worked in the neighborhood for the last decade. Even working as the legislative director for Councilwoman Mendez. Mendez can’t run again because of term limits. But Rivera didn’t think she was ready for job. It took a push from Mendez.   

RIVERA: And she really just looked me in the eye and said this is the time, you have the experience, you’re going to be an awesome councilwoman. And I don’t know what’s holding you back–Is it a woman thing? Is it a Latina thing? What is this thought process you’re going through that’s keeping you from taking this step?

DALTON: That’s the kind of conversation a new group, called 21 in 21, is having with women in the city. The New York City Council has just 13 women out of 51 seats. And this year term limits will kick out four more. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other women in New York politics launched this new program to get at least 21 women on the city council by 2021.

WALSH: Men are far more likely to wake up one morning look in the mirror and say I would be a great state legislator or a great city councilperson and no one needs to ask them.

DALTON: Debbie Walsh is the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers. She says just asking women to run isn’t enough. Another key element: the seat has to be open, too. Incumbents win more than 90 percent of the time. When a seat is open, it can level the playing field, especially for women.

DEW STEELE: When they do run, women win at similar rates to men.

DALTON: Andrea Dew Steele is the founder and president of Emerge America. A group that’s been training women to run for office for 15 years.

DEW STEELE: We go and we ask women in the communities where we work to consider running for office, consider it a way of serving your country, of participating in your community.

DALTON: Emerge America is launching in New York City soon and will be partnering with 21 in 21.

DALTON: Carlina Rivera knocks on her last door of the evening. On an average night, she usually hits at least 100 doors.

RIVERA: I’m nowhere where I want to be. I plan on knocking on thousands of doors. Once the person opens the door and I can talk to them. That’s when we’re really able to connect.

DALTON: Most of the time, people don’t answer their doors. So she rolls up a campaign flyer and sticks it between the knob and door frame. It’s trick she’s picked up on the campaign trail. Meg Dalton, Columbia Radio News.

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