Friday, May 24th

Young Women Inspired to Run for Office at League Workshop

RUNNING 1aElected officials inspired students to run for office.On Thursday, April 18, the League of Women Voters Westchester hosted its annual Running and Winning workshop at Reid Castle at Manhattanville University. Forty-two *female elected officials from throughout Westchester met with sixty-six *female high school students from our county.

Running and Winning is a unique and inspirational workshop, the purpose of which is to inspire and encourage young women to run for political office. In addition to supporting the students’ aspirations to serve in public office and develop their leadership potential, another underlying purpose is to help our government institutions increase gender parity.

RUNNING 2Small Group InterviewsThe event was chaired for a third year by Scarsdale residents and League members, Elissa Ruback and Leah Dembitzer. Dembitzer commented: “Running and Winning is a meaningful opportunity meant to inspire and educate young women with an interest in politics and advocacy. A connective theme highlighted by many of our attending elected officials was to encourage young women to use their voice and to be a change-maker. We are so proud to bring this special event to students and grateful to the elected officials who told their stories to inspire the next generation of leaders."

The young *women who participated were selected by their school administrators and faculty to participate in this program. The program agenda included both learning from elected officials’ experiences and practical application.

After a welcome and breakfast, the students and elected officials heard from a panel of select elected officials. The officials responded to high school student questions on why they decided to run for office and the challenges they face. The panel included; County Legislator, Margaret Cunzio; County Legislator, Emiljana Ulaj; New Rochelle Mayor, Yadira Ramos-Herbert; Scarsdale Deputy Mayor, Dara Gruenberg; and Port Chester Trustee, Joan Grangenois-Thomas.RUNNING 3Students listen to panelists.

Legislator Cunzio said she was privileged to speak to the students and also emphasized that she had for many years been the one in the background; she spoke of the importance of her mentor who encouraged her to run for office. Cunzio also said that she is a volunteer firefighter and though petite and a woman, she runs into a burning building with all of the male firefighters in her company – the whole room broke into applause. Cunzio also spoke of the importance of being true to your own voice and that sometimes you may be the only one in the room on one side of an issue.

Deputy Mayor Gruenberg said that she had spent a lot of time finding other people to run for office and realized that she could do it herself: “I ran because I wanted to get things done.” Gruenberg also said that she may not always know about every issue at the outset but she can learn, she can listen and she can ask questions.

Trustee Grangenois-Thomas had a similar experience to Deputy Mayor Gruenberg in that she worked behind the scenes to help others get elected. Ultimately, her volunteer colleagues suggested that she run for office. Grangenois-Thomas also encouraged the students to “do you… to be yourself.” Mayor Ramos-Herbert is the first woman and person of color to be mayor of New Rochelle. She talked about how important her network of female friends and colleagues are to help, give advice, and support her.

Ramos-Herbert also said that she thinks of the Caitlin Clark quote: “Be your unapologetic self,” and how important it is to be true to oneself and to have courage. Legislator Ulaj talked about her journey from an immigrant, working-class family and how she had to forge her own way in order to ultimately run for office. She shared that she believes that the most important issue for women is bodily autonomy; being in control of one’s body and reproductive health.

Following the speeches, the students participated in three rounds of casual interviews with various elected officials who rotated throughout the room. After the morning sessions, the students worked on mock campaigns, with each student in a given group taking part as either: candidate, campaign manager, speechwriter, publicity/communications chair, and fundraising/development chair. Potential issues offered by the League for campaign platforms included: organizing a Mental Health Community Center; organizing an Immigrant Support and Resources Center and organizing and funding a Composting Center. The majority of student groups chose to run with the Mental Health Community Center as their platform discussing the prevalence of mental health issues for young people. The students’ campaigns conveyed that the collective mental health of women/girls in their generation has been influenced by many factors including pandemic isolation, frequent school shootings, and challenges to a woman’s right to choose. Some groups also shared their support for an Immigrant Center, citing their own experiences as first or second generation immigrants and the need to support and value immigrants in our communities.

Running and Winning 2024 was sponsored by the League of Women Voters Education Fund, the Westchester Community Foundation, the Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus, the Westchester Library System, Manhattanville University, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Xi Chi Omega Chapter, and the American Association of University Women.

Student quotes:

“The part of the program I found most interesting were the interviews with officials as they were very open with their stories and we got to hear from many different perspectives.”

“It helped me see a personal side of government and the nitty-gritty side of campaigning.”

“I saw how strong and kind they (the elected officials) were! It reminded me that they are humans doing their best.”

“The experience made me feel more empowered and confident.”

“The experience showed me how I’m able to stand up and change the political world.”

*LWVW uses an inclusive definition of female and woman and welcomes all individuals who identify as such..

Photos from the event (courtesy of League of Women Voters Westchester)

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