Bergen County exec Donovan urges women to consider public office

By John C. Ensslin
The Record
October 12, 2011

Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan said Wednesday that more women should consider running for public office, stating that their numbers at the state, national and local level remain relatively small.

Bergen County Executive Kathy Donovan speaks to Rhoda Schermer of Ridgewood during the event.
In a speech to the League of Women Voters of Ridgewood, Donovan noted that New Jersey has had just one female governor, one female lieutenant governor and five congresswomen, with none since Marge Roukema, a Ridgewood Republican, left office after the 2002 election.

She added that New Jersey has 34 women in the state Legislature, 30 female freeholders and 25 elected constitutional officers, such as herself.

“I guess that’s better than what it used to be, but it’s not enough,” Donovan said during the luncheon at the Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood. Of her status as the first woman to be elected county executive in Bergen County, she said, “It’s good for me, but really appalling for Bergen County.”

When she was growing up as a young Catholic girl, Donovan said the only traditional jobs for women were to be a nurse, a teacher or a nun. Donovan chose instead to become a lawyer.

She talked about how Christine Todd Whitman, the state’s first female governor, gave her a chance when she appointed Donovan in 1994 as a commissioner on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Donovan said it helps for women in elected office to encourage other women to follow careers in public service.

“I think too many women as a group say, ‘Not me. I can’t do that.’ But you can usually figure it out,” she said.

“My point is that those of us who have done things need to reach back and encourage other people.”

Karen Feldhahn of Ridgewood said she was encouraged by Donovan’s talk.

“I know that as the kids are getting older and not as dependant upon us, it’s interesting to see what other opportunities are out there.” Feldhahn said.

She plans to encourage her two daughters to consider their options.

“It’s important for them to know that they can go anywhere,” she added. “There is no ceiling.”

In other remarks during a question-and-answer session that followed her talk, Donovan said she is skeptical about dredging rivers as an answer to the floods that have inundated some parts of the county in recent years.

Dredging is expensive option at a time when governments have little money to spend, and it doesn’t provide a long-term solution for homes built in flood zones, Donovan said.

Donovan said she thinks it would be better to pursue so-called “bluefields” grants that would enable government to buy residents out of homes that are subject to chronic flooding.