Berkshire County Women's Political Caucus hopes to close political gender gap

PITTSFIELD — Andrea Harrington felt shut out.

Despite longstanding ties to the Berkshires, Harrington said she found it difficult to gain traction in the political sphere last year when she was running for a state Senate seat.

And founders of the newly established Berkshire County Women's Political Caucus want to make sure that does not happen again.

Harrington, Barbara S. Goldberg and Amy Diamond co-founded the caucus, an affiliated chapter of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, which recruits and provides a range of support to candidates.

"I think a number of us were not aware, before the [2016 presidential] election, how few women were in politics and how under-represented we were as a gender," Diamond said. "We have to make sure that we have men and women who are getting mentored by the existing politicians. And putting in their pipelines just as many women as men."

While campaigning for the Democratic state Senate primary, Harrington said she quickly learned that political seats were primarily held by men.

Harrington was endorsed by the state caucus when she ran against then-candidate Adam Hinds last fall.

"I found it to be very empowering to be connected with women who really wanted to support me. But they were in Boston," she said. "I was trying to build that network here and it was just more work than I could accomplish by myself and in that amount of time."

She lost the primary and Hinds went on to win the seat representing the Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden district in the state Senate.

The nonpartisan caucus works to get women elected to public office and appointed to public policy positions. It will also endorse candidates in Western Massachusetts on behalf of the statewide chapter, Harrington said.

Thus far, the caucus has met with five would-be city councilors, four in Pittsfield and one in Springfield. The endorsements will be announced later this summer.

They said the caucus also will appeal to young women to get involved in the political process and offer them support.

"If you want to intern on a campaign, we will help you," Diamond said. "If you want to work for a public policy group, we will help you. You need a pathway."

The caucus held monthly meetings during the winter but is taking a break from events for the summer. It is seeking new members, candidate or not, in the interim, Goldberg said.

The group has a fundraiser planned for Aug. 22 at The Mount.

The women, both Berkshire County transplants, said they researched a number of organizations before settling on the caucus because of its nonpartisan approach.

"The idea of gender parity in politics it is a radical idea that transcends party," Harrington said.

Diamond, a longtime Republican, now is registered as Independent; she said she avoided politics until the 2016 election.

Goldberg, also an Independent, began working with the New Jersey Women's Political Caucus when she lived there in the '90s. She was also national caucus vice president.

The women said they were frustrated by Donald Trump's win over Hillary Clinton in November, which motivated them to take action.

"They were both flawed candidates," Diamond said. "But she was so much more qualified on so many levels."

Harrington said government isn't working. She pointed to families who can no longer live comfortably on a minimum wage salary.

"That effect comes from government that is not representative of the people," she said. "It is full of this old boys club and we are getting really bad results."

She said grassroots efforts, like the caucus, can help bring parity to the system.

A retired investment banker, Diamond is a numbers person. She pointed out women hold just 19 percent of elected offices at the federal level.

"At this rate it will be 500 years before there are equal men and women," she said. "There is no reason we have to be the only developed country with so few women" in office.

Until the recent death of state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, women held two of the five Berkshire County seats in the state Legislature. And even fewer women hold elected posts locally.

"Recruit. Train. Elect." That's the stated goal of the statewide caucus. But Diamond said she has a different idea for the Berkshire County chapter.

"Empowerment, action and results is what I would really like to see," she said. "I would like to see us get to 50 percent at every level."

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo


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