Newsom's woman problem


OPINION Be nice, wait your turn, pay your dues, your time will come.

This is the "guidance" given to women in politics, and many of us have bided our time and paid our share of dues. But what happens when our time comes, and we speak out for what we believe in? We are called pushy, mean, controlling, or cold. And worse — we are stripped of our positions.

In the last month, four of the most respected women in city government have been removed from their posts:

Susan Leal is considered one of city government's best managers and was leading the city toward a future of sustainable energy usage. According to the Chronicle, she was fired from her position as director of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission because the Mayor did not consider her to be a "team player," and because it appeared that Leal was readying herself for another run for Mayor in 2011.

Leah Shahum is a fearless bike advocate and Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She was removed from the city's Municipal Transportation Agency for being an outspoken critic of the city's inaction on promoting alternative forms of transportation.

Roma Guy is a fierce advocate for women's health, a former lecturer in San Francisco State University's health education department and a longtime progressive activist. She was removed from the city's Health Commission without explanation.

Debra Walker is the only woman on the city's powerful Building Inspection Commission, a longtime affordable housing activist, and a fighter for reform and transparency in the Department of Building Inspection (a male-dominated department in a male-dominated field). Walker lost her leadership position on the commission after she was targeted by the mayor's office for openly disagreeing with his positions.

We can't allow these affronts to go unnoticed and we can't afford to lose more good women in poweror let the few that remain be silenced into inaction. It is time for women to stand behind our sisters who work hard every day to represent us in government, many on a volunteer basis, while also pursuing full time careers and caring for their families.

The National Women's Political Caucus and the San Francisco Women's Political Committee are working to increase the number of women in positions of influence in city government. In September of last year, 47 elected officials and other community leaders from the San Francisco women's community came together for a Women's Policy Summit where the participants agreed that our top priority is to promote more women to positions of influence in government.

Even though women comprise 51 percent of the voting population, we hold only 16 percent of the seats in Congress, 23 percent of state legislative seats nationwide, and 27 percent of the seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Only one elected executive office in San Francisco — district attorney — is held by a woman.

San Francisco must do more to promote women to leadership positions. We must also call on the mayor to appoint women to positions of influence in city government and demand an explanation when he removes qualified women from their posts without good cause. The time for patience and waiting our turn has passed. *

Alix Rosenthal, Amy Moy and Micha Liberty

Alix Rosenthal is the founder of the San Francisco Women's Policy Summit. Amy Moy is president of the San Francisco Women's Political Committee. Micha Liberty is president of the National Women's Political Caucus (SF chapter).