Black women in New York hold more positions of power than ever: a Black woman attorney general; the State Assembly’s first-ever Black woman as majority leader; and the first Black woman speaker of the New York City Council, which is the most diverse City Council in the history of New York and for the first time, composed of a majority of women. But this historic representation can’t be our upper limit. It has to be the foundation on which we build.
While a women-majority NYC Council is an undeniable indicator of progress, we know that the power of incumbency is lower for women than for men and that women new to the political arena face steeper headwinds. For women of color, especially Black women, those headwinds are even steeper.
Research from the Brookings Institution has indicated that only 3.1% of Black women make up the country’s elected officials, and that Black women candidates as a whole are under-represented, making up only about 2% of the candidates who choose to challenge incumbents. Meanwhile, Demos found that “Black women are often deterred by a number of factors when they decide to run for public office” because of the social exclusion that comes with their race and gender, including finding and fielding donors.
If we want to address that national gap and ensure more Black and brown women are elected, we need to act quickly—and early. That’s why we [the New Majority NYC ] are leaning into endorsing early and consistently, protecting incumbent women on the Council who uphold our bottom-line issues, investing in our first-ranked candidates, and leaning into ranked-choice voting to further diversify our Council.
Early endorsements are a powerful tool in maintaining momentum and sustaining the progress we’ve made. That’s why the New Majority NYC (formerly 21 in ’21) endorses early—especially in primary elections—and supports women who run for office from day one. Other groups need to follow suit. According to findings from Represent Women, establishing early assistance and mentorship is crucial to political power-building for women. Simply put, early support helps women win—and because New York City’s races are so often won or lost in the primaries, it is critical to support candidates before the primaries.
In addition, ranked-choice voting is proven to work. The New Majority NYC exceeded its goal of electing 21 more women to the NYC Council in 2021 because we leaned into the promise of ranked-choice voting. We worked strategically with our sister organizations and our endorsees to leverage the best political outcomes while investing in petitioning, building a strong and early ground game, and connecting our candidates with mentors, voters, donors and networks. Strong, sustained networks; mentorship; and community helped provide Black women, Latinas and AAPI (Asian-American) women with the support they needed to run for office and win, and we’re excited to do it again in 2023. That has to be the blueprint for organizations that are serious about electing qualified, prepared and capable women who can represent and deliver for New York City.
This year, as redistricting reshapes district demographics, we need to fight even harder to protect and expand our women majority. We need to ensure that councilmembers representing Black, Latino and AAPI communities reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods. And we need to make sure that candidates of color, as well as voters of color, aren’t treated as a monolith.
Ranked-choice voting helps us achieve authentic representation, with candidates of color and communities of color benefiting from the process, and we’ll be making key investments in our first-ranked candidates to help pave a path to victory. A FairVote report found that historically, winning candidates of color grow vote totals at a higher rate than white candidates as ballot-counting gets further into the process. Districts with more voters of color tend to rank a higher percentage of candidates on their ballots.
Why do we fight so hard for a diverse, women-led council? Because we know that authentic gender representation delivers better outcomes and policies that benefit everyone. This past cycle, the NYC Council delivered for our communities and acted as a bulwark against the mayor’s proposed budget cuts to education and social services, and created a first-of-its-kind New York Abortion Access Fund. That’s why we’re unapologetically leaning into ranked-choice voting and investing early in protecting our incumbents: because we understand the power of organizing, and organizing early, for the women and women of color who seek elected office.
The NYC Council made history with its first-ever female-majority in 2021. Now, it’s time to continue making a difference—and ensure that uplifting Black women when they run for office becomes our city’s norm.
Yvette Buckner is a board member of the New Majority NYC, an organization devoted to achieving authentic gender representation in NYC politics.