SEATTLE (AP) — When political consultant Cathy Allen and others learned the top four vote-getters in Seattle’s mayoral primary race were women, she paused to think.
“When was the last time Seattle had a woman mayor?” she wondered. A few prominent women who ran unsuccessfully over the years sprang to mind, but not any who won. So Allen checked and discovered the last female mayor of the Pacific Northwest’s largest city was elected in 1926.
“We’re sitting here going, ‘This can’t be,'” she said. “This is our progressive city.”
After 91 years, Seattle is poised to elect its second female mayor next week. Voters will choose between urban planner Cary Moon or former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan to lead this city dealing with the benefits and headaches of an economy booming for some more than others as e-commerce giant Amazon expands. There are the only two candidates on the ballot.
Just a few months ago, neither woman was even in the race. Former Mayor Ed Murray was expected to easily win re-election after pushing through increases to the city’s minimum wage and emerging as a vocal opponent of President Donald Trump, who was trounced by Seattle voters in 2016. But Murray dropped his bid in May following accusations of sexual abuse by multiple men. He resigned in September.
In the August primary, Durkan, Moon, community activist Nikkita Oliver and former state lawmaker Jessyn Farrell took the four top spots.
The shock many Seattleites felt when Hillary Clinton lost to Trump could have played a part in the strong showing by this year’s female mayoral candidates, Allen said. Two well-known male candidates – state Sen. Bob Hasegawa and former Mayor Mike McGinn – finished a distant fifth and sixth in the primary.
There’s been a realization that “women are not nearly as equal as we figured we were,” said Allen, who has helped train female candidates in dozens of countries working with the national Women’s Political Caucus and the State Department.
Moon said attending the Women’s March in January in Washington, D.C., inspired her to run.
“There’s been a massive shift,” Moon said. “A lot of women are feeling a responsibility to step up and offer a different kind of leadership in politics.”
As of July 2016, only 19 percent of U.S. cities had a woman as mayor, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. And just 6 percent of the country’s top paid CEOs last year were women, an analysis by executive data firm Equilar and The Associated Press found.
“Every job I’ve ever had I’ve faced barriers because I’m a woman,” Durkan said.
The race between Durkan and Moon has keyed on how the city will respond to changes largely brought by Amazon, which employs about 40,000 people in Seattle. Housing prices have skyrocketed amid constant complaints about traffic and worries that the poor and middle class are being priced out.
Durkan, backed by the city’s business and labor establishment, has touted her managerial experience as a prosecutor. Moon, meanwhile, who formerly managed her family’s manufacturing business, has stressed her 20 years of activism on transit, waterfront and other city issues. During the campaign, both said they have been treated differently based on gender.
Durkan, who says she’s the first openly gay person to become a U.S. attorney, said she no longer looks at social media comments because so many are sexist and homophobic.
“Any woman who’s had any job is aware that you’re always pulled between various narratives: Are you going to cry, or are you an ice princess?” she said.
Moon said she gets asked if she’s tough enough for the job.
“Leadership is not about knocking heads together. It’s about leading,” she said. “But yes, when it comes time to settle a dispute, of course I can do that. There’s nothing in my resume that presumes I couldn’t do that.”
Bertha Knight Landes was elected Seattle’s mayor 16 years after women won the right to vote in Washington and just six years after women won the right to vote nationally.
She had to prove herself in ways that men did not – facing constant scrutiny over whether her dress and demeanor were proper for a woman of the early 20th century.
Newspapers and magazines told readers that Landes was a “plain, unassuming, churchgoing woman” not the “chattering kind” and not a smoker or a threatening “new woman,” according to a 1994 biography of Landes by the late University of Idaho professor Sandra Haarsager.
Durkan said a phrase from a conference over 20 years ago sticks with her today: “The first people who break the glass ceiling are going to get a lot of cuts.”
Having women in leadership positions has a “society-changing effect,” she said. “We want every little girl to think they can be whatever they want, and every little boy.”