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St. Paul’s All-Women City Council Faces Backlash; President Mitra Jalali Claps Back

History was made at St. Paul’s, Minnesota, on Tuesday when the elected all-women city council members were sworn in. According to experts who analyse women in politics, this is the first large US city to elect an all-female city council.

Moreover, the elected members are not only all women but also from varied professions and different ethnic backgrounds. Six out of the seven elected women are women of colour. This is happening for the first time in the capital city of Minnesota.

President Mitra Jalali said, “I think that our community is finally reflected by the city council.”

All women are Democrats and under 40 years of age. They represent the city’s multiculturalism, the multifaith community, and the city’s diversity.

Heidi Heitkamp, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and former senator of North Dakota, said, “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.”

Nelsie Yang, representative of Ward 6 and a councilwoman since 2020, expressed that the moment was surreal and “frankly, long overdue.” “Change doesn’t happen with the same voices at the table.”

The members had their first meeting on Wednesday and discussed top priorities such as public safety, economic development, housing policies, and so on. The council’s vice president also mentioned the importance of addressing the needs of the marginalized community.

However, this decision does not come without criticism. Many conservatives expressed their views on X and claimed that women were only elected to fill in for diversity.

Valentina Gomez, a Republican running to become secretary of state for Missouri, said, “All diversity-elected officials who will likely turn the city to the ground.” The move also received some online criticism on various other social media platforms.

The council president said she was active on social media and engaging with people who were afraid of what the progressive-elected Democrats would do.

But Mitra Jalali, ward 4 council member, also clapped back by saying, "A whole lot of people who were comfortable with majority male, majority white institutions for nearly 170 years of city history are suddenly sharply concerned about representation. My thoughts and prayers are with them in this challenging time.”

This reply was followed by a cheer and tremendous support online.

Data from Rutgers shows that across the US, women in municipal positions are continually underrepresented. Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center, also stated that seven out of ten municipal officials across the country were men, with most of them being white.

At the end of 2023, four of the City Council members stepped down, and a coalition was able to form between Ms. Bowie, Ms. Kim, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Jost, after which the three currently elected members were added. The representative of Ward 1, Ms. Bowie, said that she was “excited to see how we dance together.”

Having an all-women city council, that too, from a diverse range of ethnicities, is a historic moment not lost on the council members. The members, in an interview with WCCO (or CBS Minnesota), said that they recognize the responsibility the new leadership position brings.

Commenting on the euphoria they felt while getting their offices ready, Mitra Jalali said they all felt like they were in the movie "Barbie," a world where only women were in charge.

Christina Ewig, Director of the Center on Women, Gender, and Public Policy at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said that St. Paul’s election results are noteworthy in many ways. She also stated that it contributes to the trend toward more women in elected office.

“I don’t expect us to always have all women into the future, but it does follow this broader trend that we’ve been seeing in the state and other elected offices of more women running, more women winning.”

The biggest surprise for Ewig was that in 2018, there was only one woman of colour- Jalali, but now nearly all of them who identify as women of colour are on the council.

At 39, Ms. Noecker, who considers herself the “senior stateswoman," said, “You know, the reason it was such a good ol’ boys club for so long is because those ol’ white boys knew good ol’ white boys and then mentored them along the way. So once you have changed who’s on the council, to begin with, you change the dynamic of who’s likely to step up and run."

There is no doubt that the all-female elected council will inspire women and girls across the country, showing not only that they too can dream about being in leadership positions but also how diversity might bring positive changes to communities.


Edited by Shawn Chodhry

Photo Courtesy: LA Times

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