Women Activists Hope Tish James Adds Diversity to Democratic Ticket

Councilwoman Tish James at City Hall today.

Councilwoman Tish James at City Hall today.

With the city’s future mayor and comptroller widely expected to be white and male, women’s groups are flocking to Tish James in the public advocate’s race.

At an endorsement rally today at City Hall, Mr. James’s backers noted repeatedly that the Brooklyn Councilwoman would be the first black woman elected to citywide office if she wins her runoff election against State Senator Daniel Squadron on Oct. 1.

“Let me be a little more blunt: Do we really want at the top of the ticket for all citywide offices–the most important positions here in the city–to all be all white, all male?” asked Sonia Ossorio, president of the city’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, flanked by supporters of Ms. James.

“No!” Ms. James responded. “That’s not gonna happen!”

Prominent James supporters including C. Virginia Fields, the former Manhattan Borough President, and Reshma Saujani, who is now backing Ms. James after losing the first phase of the primary, emphasized the importance of Ms. James’s victory for women everywhere.

Echoing black abolitionist Sojourner Truth, Ms. Saujani extolled Ms. James’s progressive credentials, work ethic and history-making potential.

“Ain’t Tish a woman?” Ms. Saujani asked. “Let’s be real. We can’t keep complaining about the glass ceiling when we’re the ones that are keeping it intact. The majority of voters in this primary electorate are going to be women. We are going to decide who the next public advocate is.”

Ms. James is now locked in a one-on-one battle with Mr. Squadron, who happens to be white and male. And if he wins the race, there is a good chance that Ms. Ossorio’s fears could come to fruition: Presumptive Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio, his Republican rival, Joe Lhota and comptroller candidate Scott Stringer–the favorite in his race–are all white men.

Ms. James, however, downplayed the racial element of her candidacy, instead stressing her gender.

“Someone once told me, ‘When women vote, women win,’” Ms. James declared, noting that she had been compared to Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to Congress, and Bella Abzug, a prominent congresswoman and feminist. “We still don’t have equal pay for equal work and that must change … there still are not enough women, as mentioned by Reshma, in science and technology, and that must change.”

“Our government must look like the people we serve, including women,” she said.

After the press conference, Ms. James brushed off questions about whether Mr. Squadron was any less in tune with the needs of minorities and women because of his race or gender.

“I’m focusing really on the issues that people care about. I want to focus on paid parental leave. I want to focus on, obviously, increasing the wages of women,” said Ms. James, refusing to mention Mr. Squadron. “I want to have a live and passionate discussion about those issues.”

Update (3:37 p.m.): Mr. Squadron’s campaign responded with a statement from Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa, who praised the senator’s record on women’s issues.

“No one has been a bigger champion of women’s equality than Daniel, earning a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood,” she said, arguing that he is “the right choice for Public Advocate because he’s never backed down from a fight for women’s equality, from protecting our right to choose and preserving funding for basic healthcare needs, to standing up against income discrimination”

“Daniel’s record of results — and specific plan to make the Public Advocate’s office essential for women, kids, and families who need a fighter — are why I, and so many other women around the city, are supporting him,” she added.