Paul Hampton

Women are on the march just as the status quo is on the ropes

Thousands fill the National Mall for the Women's March in Washington on January 21, 2017.
Thousands fill the National Mall for the Women's March in Washington on January 21, 2017. For The Washington Post

I know where I’d like to see women march next. To city hall. To pick up qualifying papers for the municipal elections.

Running for and serving a city government will, if nothing else, confirm whether your heart is in public service. I know. I once held public office as a township trustee — a rung below municipal offices — in Illinois.

In just two terms, I managed to alienate some of my dearest relatives by refusing to shut down a public road they considered a little-used nearby nuisance. I also was sued by a welfare recipient who was kicked off the dole because he owned not one, but two homes, and had just received a big insurance check after a fire in one of his houses. My sin? The trustees paid the rent for the welfare office.

Among the fringe benefits of office: Once a month I was allowed to meet in a relatively small room with five guys old enough to be my dad (or grandfather, in one gentleman’s case) and inhale staggering amounts of cigar smoke while we discussed the nuances of weed killer and indulged in more than a little gossip.

Oh, and my pay was enough to pay for health insurance, which, being in my early 20s, I never had the chance to use.

The good news was the citizenry didn’t have me on speed dial and there was no Facebook or Twitter, either of which I’m sure would have quickly derailed my career.

I retired 2-0 in township elections on the strength of the name recognition of Dad, who had been an officeholder (mayor and then county supervisor) all my life.

And most of what I learned about city government came from him, more or less by osmosis. The big takeaway: Learn to enjoy cold suppers because the constituency knows that’s one place they can run you to Earth.

I watched my dad help pump out basements flooded by rainwater, and watch over the sewage-treatment plant when the water and sewer superintendent was off.

He would get up in the middle of the night to watch firefighters try to save a home or drive to the cemetery that sits on a hill on the outskirts of town to watch for tornadoes.

Christopher, Illinois, is a town much smaller than the cities on the Coast, so I doubt you’d have to be that hands-on.

That said, the job of city government is a challenge. Expectations will be high. Money will be short. Jerks will be abundant.

But please don’t be deterred. Your cities need you.

Women outnumber men but they are underrepresented in city government. About 14 percent of council or alderman seats on the Coast are held by women.

City government could be a not-so-grand entrance for a woman into the world of politics, especially those who see themselves in higher positions of power. Because with all the headaches, these jobs also offer name recognition, and we have seen in the recent election what a valuable commodity that is when voters look at crowded ballots.

Running, of course, is no guarantee of victory. In most cases, women will be running against men with name recognition, access to campaign cash and a good ol’ boy network.

But hard work and shoe leather can overcome those obstacles. Because women at the moment have the momentum. And, for better or worse, President Trump has made the status quo suspect. Add to that the open, omnipresent warfare and petty bickering in at least three of the Coast cities and you have a recipe for change.

So if you’re sitting on the fence, I hope this is gentle push you need.

Paul Hampton: 228-896-2330, @JPaulHampton