Last week’s election was a night of firsts, shifting tides and upsets. Here’s our scorecard for how women fared in the 2021 elections.
Firsts: Madame Mayors
- Boston, Mass.: Michelle Wu (D) became the first woman, the first Asian American woman and the first person of color elected as mayor of Boston. This election significantly departed from the city’s usual political environment, with no incumbent seeking reelection, and created a fruitful scenario for multiple women of color to run for the mayor seat. In this year’s primary for the open seat race, all major candidates (Andrea Campbell, John Barros, Kim Janey, Wu and Annissa Essaibi-George) were people of color, and four out of five were women.
- Atlanta, Ga.: Felicia Moore (D) advanced to the next round of voting in Atlanta’s mayoral election. Moore, the City Council president, finished first in Tuesday’s race with about 41 percent of the vote, followed by Andre Dickens, a city councilman. Dickens edged out former Mayor Kasim Reed, a two-term mayor, once considered a front-runner in the race. Kasim Reed failed to finish in either first or second place, denying him the chance to compete in the Nov. 30 runoff.
- Durham, N.C.: Elaine O’Neal (D) became the first woman of color and first Black woman elected mayor of Durham. O’Neal defeated mayoral candidate Javiera Caballero and received a staggering almost 85 percent of the vote.
Upsets: Primary Elections
- Buffalo, N.Y.: Candidate India Walton lost to a write-in campaign by Democratic incumbent Byron Brown, who lost his city’s Democratic primary to Walton in June. In a surprising upset, India Walton’s once-promising bid to become the first socialist mayor of Buffalo—and the first in a major American city in over half a century—was defeated by Brown. A moderate Democrat seeking his fifth mayoral term, Brown was backed in his race by the New York State Republican Party who helped organize the write-in campaign.
- New York City: The strong showing by women candidates in the New York City’s ranked-choice Voting (RCV) city council primaries this past summer was one-upped by even more significant gains on general election night. Women now make up the majority—61 percent—of the council for the first time. The previous record for the council was 18 women, set in 2009. Many women are also the first women of color, religion, gender and sexual orientation elected to their seats.
A Quick Scorecard on NYC
- Thirty-one women have won or are favored to hold a seat on the 51 seat City Council; of these, 31 women won RCV primaries.
- A record-breaking five Asian Americans are to join the city council, four of which are women. This group includes the first Muslim woman (Shahana Hanif D-39), the first Korean Americans, and the first South Asian Americans elected to the council.
- District 32 saw one of the most highly contested races, and both candidates were women. The Republican candidate, Joann Ariola, ultimately emerged victorious.
- Kristin Richardson-Jordan (D-9) joins the NYC Council after a comeback victory in her RCV primary. She is one of the first two Black women from the LGBT community elected to the council. The other is Crystal Hudson (D-35).
Shifting Tides: Women Leaders
In 2021, 32 cities held 71 races that were determined by ranked-choice voting, excluding the NYC primary races. Most of them were held on Tuesday. As RCV is adopted in cities across the country, it’s important to see the system’s impact on women running for office.
In these races, one-third of the candidates were women. That one-third of women won in 85 percent of the cities and made up 45 percent of all RCV winners.
- 18 women won as incumbents, 18 won in open-seat races, and eight won as challengers.
- Women saw victories in cities that have long used RCV, such as Cambridge, Mass., where it has been used since 1941—and in cities using it for the first time, such as South Salt Lake, Utah.
- In Minneapolis, similar to in NYC, although a woman did not win for mayor, the second and third finishers were women. They were the only two women candidates in the field of 18.
In the contentious and highly watched races in Virginia, Winsome Sears emerged a trailblazer. A Republican and immigrant from Jamaica, Sears will be the first female lieutenant governor of Virginia and the first woman of color to be elected to statewide office in Virginia.
Additionally, 33 women (23 Democrats and 10 Republicans) have won races for Virginia House of Delegates seats. As of now, four women (two Democrats and two Republicans) are in races that are too close to call, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The Virginia Senate does not have elections this year.
Like Virginia, New Jersey’s off-year elections were a look into the playbooks and political trends for the upcoming 2022 midterms.
At least two Asian or Pacific Islander women, Democrats Ellen Park and Shama Haider, have been elected to the New Jersey General Assembly this year, becoming the first AAPI women elected to the legislature in a state where more than 10 percent of the population identifies as AAPI. Both women ran in New Jersey’s 37th legislative district.
After a close governor’s race, Sheila Oliver (D) won reelection as New Jersey’s lieutenant. The 2021 election featured only women candidates, and a woman held the position since its inception in 2010—an excellent standard to keep.
Thus far, 35 women (26D, 9R) have won races for New Jersey Legislature seats, and 11 women are competing in races that are still too close to call. In the New Jersey General Assembly races, 26 women (19D, 7R) have been elected, and eight women are in races that are too close to call.
Cuyahoga County Council Member Shontel Brown (D) won the special election in Ohio’s 11th congressional district. Upon her swearing-in, the number of women in Congress will reach 144, matching the previous record high. The number of Black women in Congress will hit 25, one short of the previous high.
State Representative Allison Russo (D) lost the special election in Ohio’s 15th congressional district to Mike Carey (R).