Where Did All the Women Go?

The number of high-powered women in elected office in Santa Clara County has seriously diminished in what once was the Feminist Capital of the World. This dearth of women holding office has led to a decline in the quality of our policies and the ability to provide consensus that leads to progress.

The next Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will be all male. Liz Kniss, the sole remaining female voice, will be replaced by Senator Joe Simitian. In San Jose, Nancy Pyle also leaves due to term limits, and the only choices to replace her are two men following the primaries. This leaves only Rose Herrera and Madison Nguyen.

In a valley that elected the first woman mayor in a major American city: Janet Gray Hayes; a city that once had women majorities on both the Board of Supervisors and the San Jose City Council, the fall in numbers is quite dramatic.

Moreover, strong women like Susan Hammer, Dianne McKenna, Blanca Alvarado, Becky Morgan, Shirley Lewis and my personal favorite, Susie Wilson, have all vanished from electoral politics. Ms. Wilson was especially effective working behind the scenes to build consensus.

The untold story of our times is how these women helped build Silicon Valley, acquiring a consensus in troubled times. They checked their egos at the door and simply provided good public policy, worked across partisan lines and provided real solutions.

Today’s testosterone-driven policies have seen our institutions divided and our policy driven by ego more than rational approaches. Measure B is the poster-child issue for our times; an issue based on a clash of personalities, destined for court and a probable defeat. It’s an unfulfilling legacy destined to the trash-heap of history. One cannot imagine a governing body Susie Wilson was a part of being so publically dysfunctional.

So where is the hope? When will Teresa Alvarado get her chance to lead? When will Darcie Green, Pam Foley, Dolly Sandoval, and other strong individuals get to serve on the state, county and city level?

We need their participation sooner rather than later. Until that time, we’ll simply have to continue relying on Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Sheriff Laurie Smith to represent what was once the Feminist Capital of the World.

Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley. He has worked on past campaigns for Sheriff Laurie Smith and Darcie Green.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. Santa Clara has done very well.  Newest addition is Cultural Affairs Commissioner Debi Davis who has the support of four former mayors and a dozen city commissioners.

    • Santa Clara had indeed done well.

      Former Mayor Judy Nadler and Aldyth Parle set a tone for ethics.  Mayor Patty Mahan and Councilmember Lisa Gilmore—who I have not always supported—showed real leadership in bringing the 49ers to Santa Clara.

      Parle was a champion for award winning affordable housing projects.  Gilmore and Parle cast deciding votes on the Rivermark Project at Agnews.  It shows that people who have disagreed in the past can work together for the common good.

      And to blow away all gender stereotypes,  Santa Clara has the best City Clerk in the state—with a nationally recognized ethics program.  That would be Rod Diridon Jr.

      The way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised in the A’s ended up in Santa Clara.  They seem to know how to get things done—I assume they made a rational deal with their City employees.  There certainly isn’t the gloom and doom coming from that city over pensions.

  2. Many smart women who are public servants are in executive roles with nonprofits, where they can pick their issues and get things done with less bureaucracy.

  3. The drivel posted here by Rich Robinson would be enough to frighten an infinite number of monkeys into turning in their typewriters.

    Feminism’s impact on this valley has been a disaster. Janet Gray Hayes meant well but governed poorly. When San Jose needed a business mind she gave it a bleeding heart. Compassion is no substitute for competence. It was under the Hayes administration that this city’s focus turned from building on the success of the many to apologizing for the failures of the few. Susan Hammer was a strong women whose politics had a stronger odor; Obama with a legitimate birth certificate. She dropped Quetzalcoatl on our finest lawn, practiced the race politics reflective of her radical past, and then retired to the diversity-free, capitalist promised land of the Rose Garden. What Blanca Alvarado did here was reminiscent of what an anchovy die-off does to a harbor community: her reasoning was of mysterious origin, her policies vile and counterproductive, and her legacy left a stink that can’t be shook. Racism with a warm smile and a skirt is still racism.

    If forty years of feminist leadership was so valuable, please explain why the city and county governments of the world’s most successful, innovative valley have no money, no downtown jewel, a crumbling infrastructure, are plagued by Hispanic street gangs and under-performing schools, and rich only in Mexican cultural centers and museums?

    Give ‘em four more decades of rule and we could rename this place Tijuana.

    • The greatest person ever to hail from San Jose is Cesar Chavez.  Most people get a day off in his honor and he is usually identified with the likes of Ghandi, King and the Kennedys. 

      Norm Mineta is also a great national leader from San Jose.  He was forced into a concentration camp in his youth—and nobody is more American than Secretary Mineta.

      San Jose has problems, but by comparison it is in better position than most U.S. citites.  Moreover, the leadership provided by former Mayor’s Hayes, Hammer, and give some props to Mayors McEnery and Gonzales and their respective councils. 

      We aren’t living in Detroit—for all of our problems—it’s not so bad. Pardon me, Me gusto San Jose—we should all start learning the preferred language of the future majority of our fellow citizens and neighbors.  It’s only fair—

  4. I have been worried about the same issue.  Not many women in politics for young girls to look up to as role-models.  We all need women heroes.  I hope we will see some new faces stepping up soon to take on the challenge.

  5. Perhaps the comments already posted are an indicator of why women aren’t involved in politics more.  We fight a gender battle combined often with a racial battle and almost always the economic battle.  Somehow the majority of staffers for elected officials seems to be female yet that does not translate to a rise in the ranks of elected females.  There is still a very strong good old boys network to battle…and perhaps that’s the real issue…it’s a battle. We’ve lost the ability to develop consensus and build because it’s all a pissing contest.  And, most women know that when there’s a pissing contest there’s a mess to clean up.

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