By Patrick Donachie
Four female elected officials encouraged members of the Queens County Young Democrats to consider politics and public service as a career during a recent panel discussion, offering stories and guidance to the assembled crowd on the challenges of being a woman in politics in New York City.
“Our panelists are all women winning in Queens,” Stacy Eliuk, the Queens County Young Democrats’ president, said in her introductory remarks. Eliuk noted that the percentage of female representation in the country left much to be desired. According to a Rutgers analysis, only 19.4 percent of congressional legislators are women.
In the New York City Council, Eliuk said, only 14 of 51 representatives were women. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who was on the panel, later remarked that there had been 21 female members when she entered the council in 1991.
“Right now, we’re coming into a tough election, a scary one,” Koslowitz said, referring to the presidential primary contests. “We have to be vigilant to make sure the right people get in.”
The panelists for the event, which was held March 24 at the Rego Center Community Room in Rego Park, also included Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Queens), and state Assembly members Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and Alicia L. Hyndman (D-Laurelton). All the panelists said they had not initially considered politics as their destined career, and several said they only considered it after they were approached by retiring elected officials who hoped they would take the reins.
Simotas was an attorney prior to her political career, primarily representing corporate clients. She said she increasingly gravitated toward pro bono work and said those cases kept her interested in practicing law for several years. She eventually saw politics as a means to enact more change.
“I wanted to stop trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon,” she said. “I wanted to change the tide.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz stopped by the panel and offered brief remarks, espousing encouragement for young people who were interested in the political process. She also said Queens was gaining more attention on a national stage. She is the county’s third consecutive female borough president, following in the footsteps of Helen Marshall and Claire Shulman.
“We are the movers and the shakers now,” she said, noting increased tourism revenue that was coming into the borough. “Everyone wants to come to Queens.”
Meng, the first Asian American elected to Congress from the New York state, told the audience that the slow progress in the nation’s capital often made her fondly recall her prior work in the Assembly.
“The conversation for progressivism and women’s rights is so valuable,” she said, referring to the Assembly. “Being in Washington makes me appreciate so much more what we have going on in New York.”
Hyndman responded to a question about what the best way to enter politics might be by saying that all four panelists had reached elected office by markedly different paths.
“It’s the hard thing, to put yourself out there,” she said, but she believed that the results made the challenge worthwhile. “If I don’t put my voice in the room to advocate for everyone around me, I have no one to blame but myself.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona