Two reasons why getting your first female/black/Hispanic/Catholic/Jewish/etc. leader matters


We care a lot when someone is running for public office as the first [insert quality or background]. I can summon two meaningful reasons why, but I’m sure there are others.

I believe in rallying civic interest by tossing a bunch of names of people I respect into the ring for public service.

That’s why I created a list of Philadelphia technology leaders I thought should run for mayor, partly inspired by Patrick Kerkstra’s Philadelphia magazine story on the need for stronger mayoral candidates come 2015.

For my list, I fully sought out strong female candidates — four of the 10 on my list were — and would have even if Kerkstra hadn’t also written a story about the need for more women legislative leaders in Philadelphia.

In talking about that and my interest in other physical diversities, like race, in addition to less visible forms of diversity, like socioeconomic, professional and life experience, I found myself describing why I felt that was important beyond liberal white guilt.

I came up with two strong reasons I believe in.

(1) Inspiration — I believe in the ripple effects of someone at the top creating the infrastructure and the inspiration for others like that person to get into the act. So, like I believe President Obama will help another wave of young black politicians (though others don’t), I believe a female mayor would welcome more into the civic fold and if the goal is a legislative body that looks, thinks and acts somewhat closer to the general public, that’s a victory worth leading.

(2) Catharsis — Truer equality is when the dominant topic of conversation about a candidate isn’t a physical personal trait that candidate can’t control — race, gender, religion, disability, etc. But to get there, we need to get over the first, because we’re so obsessed with them. John Kennedy’s Irish ancestry mattered when he ran for president, but it wouldn’t today — partly because it already happened. The next black presidential candidate can be closer to being just a presidential candidate, and until there is a female mayor in Philadelphia, each women who runs will be described as that.

Are there others you find?

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