Panel Discussion on Women in Politics

By Armand Butera

Entertainment Editor & Staff Writer

(TEANECK) – With the possibility of the nation electing the first female President of the United States not even, a month away, it is fitting that the event Women in Politics was held at Fairleigh Dickinson University. The discussion, moderated by Dr. Brandi Blessett, intended to highlight some of the actions made by women who had pursued careers in politics.

While the topic of Hillary Clinton and her campaign was not addressed much, each of the speakers at the event had interesting stories of their own to provide the audience.

Out of the four women, the first to speak was FDU professor Krista Jenkins. After receiving her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in politics and gender, Jenkins began teaching at the Florham campus, as well as getting involved in FDU’s Public Mind, the university’s political poll. She spoke about some of the concerns the public may have in regards to women in the political world at the event.

“There has been some concerns that women have hit that plateau effect,” said Jenkins.

However, the FDU professor believed women were on an “upwards trajectory” in regards to political involvement. As of this year, 25 percent of state legislators are women, and 19 percent were are mayors. Twenty more have taken roles in the Senate 2016.

The four women shared their devotion to fair treatment for all groups. Each speaker lived their own unique lives and went through their own struggles.

Take, for example, Holly Schepisi who’s served in the 39th district of the New Jersey General Assembly since 2012. 

Daughter to a former Bergen County Representative, Schepisi had a connection with politics at a very young age. Shortly after graduating from Fordham Law School, she worked in the local District Attorney’s office as the only woman in that department.

Additionally, Schepisi worked in court TV during the controversial O.J. Simpson trial.

Schepisi is now a mother of two healthy children, but there were initial health concerns with her first born. While taking her child to the hospital, Schepisi received a call from her then employers insisting she return to work immediately.

Coming to the conclusion that the health of her child came first, Schepisi quit her job, eventually becoming an assemblywoman several years later. Her thoughts on the challenges in her life were reflected in a later comment.

“You’ve got to be bold, and make your voice heard,” said Schepisi.

She also started the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation. The foundation is in dedication to the late Colagrossi, who died of a brain aneurysm at the age of 49. It is intended to raise awareness abiut the disorder.

Valerie Huttle was another speaker at the event, who shared her story and how, since childhood, others questioned her actions solely for being a woman. Throughout the discussion, she noted that even with all these hurdles, she was able to achieve more than anyone would have imagined.

Huttle was the daughter of a mortician, who assumed she would take over the business until her brother was old enough to take the job. She recalled a time when a family questioned her ability to take care of their deceased relative, asking for her father instead. However, Huttle was still able to accommodate numerous families during her stint as a mortician, including helping families whose loved ones died of AIDs in the 1980’s.

By 1997, Huttle was asked to run for N.J. State Senate. A mother of two at that time, she was constantly asked why she was campaigning, with many saying that she should “be home with the kids.”

While she wound up losing the race, by 2003 she was elected first freeholder and from 2005 to 2016 was not only the chair of union services but also the vice chair of transportation for District 37 in N.J.

Huttle shared similar experiences with the final speaker Loretta Weinberg, who she has worked with on various occasions. Weinberg got her start as a civil activist in Teaneck back in 1964, when her family moved to the town.

“We have shared that activism over the last 40 some odd years,” said Weinberg.

Weinberg ran a small business with her husband for years before running in the council election in 1990. She filed for office in March of that year, but by April, Weinberg and the town of Teaneck experienced an event that would change the course of politics in the town.

In April of 1990, a young black man was shot and killed in Teaneck by a white policeman. Weinberg remembered the impact that event had on the town therein.

“I filed for office in one community, and got elected for office in another community,” said Weinberg.

Another instance that Weinberg cited as a life-changing event was when she was discussing the current state of racial issues in Teaneck with a close friend. A mother of two young black children, the friend stated that she would teach her children to hold their money in their hands when they walked into stores, so they wouldn’t be accused of shoplifting.

“To think in the township where I lived, people I socialized with, were living such different lives,” said Weinberg.

Weinberg, as well as the three other women at the event, dedicated their lives to speaking out for the underprivileged, not just women.

However, they did express interest in getting more young women involved with politics. Huttle stated that it is imperative to appeal to young women’s issues, rather than what just affects adults.

“You get the issues that are important to teens,” said Huttle.

Schepisi stated that the personal experiences of young women everywhere can be used to shape the country into a place where everyone can thrive, including women. All four women stressed the importance of getting strong willed and creative young women involved in modern politics. Organizations such as ReadyToRun, which helps young women entering the political spectrum, are important in the evolution of modern politics.

“We need women,” said Weinberg. “We need your voices in all areas of life.”