On Election Day, as tens of millions of Americans cast votes for the country’s first-ever female vice president, the nation’s second-largest metro area also made history of its own: With more than 60% of the vote, California state Sen. Holly Mitchell won an open seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, marking the first time the powerful five-person body will become entirely female. The all-women board will also represent a likely first for any major American metro area.
“We’re seeing more women are putting themselves out there, and that’s great,” says Kathy Maness, first vice president of the National League of Cities and a Lexington, South Carolina, council member. “Women tend to lead differently than our male counterparts, and I’m glad to see that women are stepping up.”
Post-Election Unrest in Photos
Yet in American local politics – as in federal politics – women remain badly underrepresented. As of September 2019, according to data from the U.S Conference of Mayors, among American cities with populations of at least 30,000 residents, only 22% had female mayors. Of the country’s 100 largest cities, 27 had female mayors. (The largest cities with female mayors are Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco.) As of late 2017, roughly 32% of American municipal councillors were women, according to research from The City Mayors Foundation. The vast majority of local councils remained predominantly male.
It’s a political landscape that makes Los Angeles County’s new board particularly momentous. “I think young women will see this board of supervisors,” says Maness, “and I think it will encourage young people to get involved, and look up there and say, ‘Hey, if these women can do it, I know I can do it.'”
Los Angeles County is not, in fact, the only municipal board to be entirely female. Last year Story County, Iowa – population 97,000 – elected its first all-female Board of Supervisors, and this year San Luis Obispo, California, elected its first all-female council.
But among local governing bodies, Los Angeles County is particularly influential. With more than 10 million residents, Los Angeles County, which includes the city of Los Angeles, is the country’s most populous; its Board of Supervisors, long ago dubbed the “five little kings,” controls a $35 billion budget, the country’s second-largest municipal purse, and oversees the nation’s largest jail system. The board remained all male until 1979. Since 2017, four of its five members have been women.
Its new addition is an established Democratic politician and a stalwart of Los Angeles’ Black community. After years of working in politics, she first won a California State Assembly seat a decade ago. She was moved to run for office, she recently told the Los Angeles Times, after witnessing three male lawmakers nonchalantly cut $1 billion from state child care.
She was subsequently elected to the California Senate, representing a district that included much of downtown Los Angeles, and became known as a champion of the city’s poor.
“I would describe her