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Emily's List launches Madam Mayor program to support local women leaders

Originally published by The 19th

Emily’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is launching a new initiative, Madam Mayor, to elevate, champion and establish resources for woman mayors. 

“The battle for reproductive freedom and our very democracy is playing out on a local level every single day — and these women stand at the frontlines, working to make their communities a better place and standing up to Republican extremism in the face of a relentless onslaught against our freedoms,” Emily’s List President Laphonza Butler said in a statement. 

Emily’s List, founded in 1985, has endorsed women in mayoral races for over 30 years. The organization said it launched the Madam Mayor initiative in part because of the rise in misinformation (incorrect information shared unintentionally) and disinformation (incorrect information shared intentionally) that is targeting political candidates and shaping the political environment.

Misinformation and disinformation, the group said, are particularly harmful to women candidates and candidates of color and can have a “chilling effect on recruitment.” Women candidates have contended with a rise in harassment and threats, fueled by online vitriol, in recent years. 

As of March, 26 percent of mayors and officials performing mayoral duties in cities with populations of over 30,000 were women, according to the Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University. Of the 32 women serving as mayors of the 100 most populous U.S. cities, eight are Black women.

But the past few years especially have posed numerous, unprecedented challenges for mayors, from the COVID-19 pandemic to uprisings and unrest in many major cities in the summer of 2020 over police killings of Black Americans.

Emily’s List said it hopes the Madam Mayor program will “serve as a critical touchpoint” for woman mayors to receive support and resources in combating the myriad challenges currently facing local officials.

Emily’s List also issued a slate of new endorsements along with the launch of the Madam Mayor program. The group endorsed London Breed, mayor of San Francisco; Kate Gallego, mayor of Phoenix; Daniella Levine Cava, mayor of Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Erin Mendenhall, mayor of Salt Lake City; Lauren McLean, mayor of Boise, Idaho; and Vi Lyles, mayor of Charlotte, N.C., on Monday, July 24. 

The group had previously endorsed eight candidates for mayor and local executive office in the 2023-2024 election cycle, including Donna Deegan, who flipped control of the mayor’s office in Jacksonville, Fla., from Republican to Democratic, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a candidate for mayor of Houston. 

"I’m incredibly proud to have the endorsement and support of Emily’s List, and to be one of the first mayors to be endorsed as part of their Madam Mayor program,” Breed, a Democrat, said in a statement. “No organization is more supportive of women running for office, their impact is seen and felt across our nation.”

Some mayors Emily’s List has endorsed are elected Democrats but others, like Breed, Gallego and Levine Cava, run in nonpartisan elections. Levine Cava is the first woman and first person of Jewish descent to serve as mayor of Miami-Dade County and said she was hit with false accusations of being anti-police and a socialist during her 2020 campaign. 

“Being in office is not child's play. It’s challenging, and you have to be willing to expose yourself to lots of attacks on both sides of the aisle, if you will,” she said. “I think I've been very fortunate to, and I think others see this, to thread the needle with focusing so much on the community needs and trying to stay out of ideological warfare.”

Gallego, who was elected in 2019, said a “sisterhood” of other woman mayors was critical to her in navigating the pandemic. She said that she now regularly exchanges ideas on climate adaptation, heat response and sustainable public transit with other mayors, including Levine Cava and McLean. 

“I think one of the great things about mayors is that we're happy to share information and collaborate, and I learn from my fellow mayors all the time,” Gallego said. 

Levine Cava, who also holds the responsibilities of sheriff of the county, said she has worked to invest in and improve trust in law enforcement, along with tackling challenges like the cost of housing, climate change and sea level rise. Levine Cava said being a nonpartisan official has helped her work effectively across the aisle and with Miami-Dade County’s 13-member county commission. 

“I have not had burnout, and I do attribute that partly to being a woman,” Levine Cava said. “I feel that I am very collaborative and a good listener, strive for consensus.”

She said she hopes Madam Mayor will foster new woman candidates at the local level. She and other local officials are also contending with the fallout of state-level abortion bans in the wake of the  Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 that sent abortion back to the states. Levine Cava has been active in the ongoing efforts to get on the 2024 ballot a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights in Florida, where the state’s Republican-controlled legislature has restricted the procedure.

“I believe that building the bench is where we have failed. Not enough is being done to look for promising candidates, to groom them, to support them, encourage them,” Levine Cava said. “All politics are local.”