Historic All-Female City Council Takes the Helm in St. Paul, Minnesota

Historic All-Female City Council Takes the Helm in St. Paul, Minnesota
  • PublishedJanuary 12, 2024

In a historic moment that signals progress and diversity in leadership, the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, recently witnessed an unprecedented milestone – an all-female city council. With a population of approximately 300,000 people, St. Paul is now known as the first large U.S. city to have an entire city council comprised of women. While this achievement is indeed remarkable, the council members are more focused on the positive changes they can bring to their community in the year ahead.

All seven members of the city council are under the age of 40, and six out of the seven are women of color. Their diverse backgrounds, ranging from civil engineering to nonprofit leadership, reflect the rich tapestry of St. Paul’s population. Council President Mitra Jalali remarked on the significance of this milestone, stating, “We’re a multifaith, multicultural group of women. Our professional experiences are what people trusted as much as our personal ones. … And we have a clear policy vision that we got elected on.”

What makes this accomplishment even more powerful is that it aligns with the demographic makeup of the city itself. Jalali notes, “The median age of our community is 32.5. We are a majority person-of-color city. We have many major racial and ethnic groups, many of which are now represented on this council.”

Researchers at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University confirm that St. Paul is the largest U.S. city to ever have an all-female city council. This achievement is significant because it challenges the prevailing trend of women being underrepresented in municipal offices across the country. According to Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the center, seven out of ten municipal office holders in the U.S. are male, with the majority being white.

Sinzdak emphasizes the long-term impact of having an all-female council, especially one where the majority are women of color, stating, “The fact that you have an all-female council and a majority of women of color, it has a long-term effect on young women and girls seeing them and saying, ‘I can do this, too.'”

The council’s priorities include addressing housing issues with a comprehensive policy, renter protections, climate action, reimagining public safety to rely less on police officers and more on mental health responders, and fostering economic development.

Hwa Jeong Kim, the council’s vice president, expressed, “I feel like women and women of color and queer and trans women have been grieving for a long time — not for things that they’ve lost, but for things that they’ve never had.”

Jalali adds, “The council lifts up the progressive values of our community more than ever and is committed to doing that difficult work together — not just in a performative way, but in a way that is sustainable and will really make lasting change.”

While the council operates on a nonpartisan basis, all seven members are Democrats. In Minnesota, women make up 35% of municipal office holders in cities with over 10,000 people, ranking the state 16th among the 50 states in terms of gender representation. Alaska and Arizona lead with the highest proportions of women in municipal office at 45%, while North Dakota lags behind with the lowest at 20%.

Karen Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, notes that women’s participation in elected office typically levels off at around 25% to 30% across the U.S. Thus, St. Paul’s 100% female city council is not just a milestone; it’s a significant step toward more diverse and inclusive governance.

Heidi Heitkamp, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and a former U.S. senator from North Dakota, observes, “What’s remarkable about this lineup is not just that it’s all women, but it’s the age of these women and it’s the diversity of these women.” She predicts that this diversity will bring about meaningful changes in public policy and governance.

As St. Paul embraces this historic moment, the nation watches with anticipation to see the impact that this groundbreaking all-female city council will have on the city and its residents.

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