CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Right here in Central Illinois, a number of women are leading their cities as mayors and paving the way for a younger generation in government.
Three neighboring cities: Champaign, Urbana and Savoy are all led by women. Deb Feinen, Diane Marlin and Joan Dykstra have worked together over the years in government and have collaborated on projects.
“There are many time where we are in governmental meetings. We’re on the slow ride for charity.”
All the mayors were inspired to start in politics differently. For Mayor Marlin, it started in the 70s while she was in college. Back then, leadership in government wasn’t the same as it is now.
“There were no women elected officials. There were no women school board members. There were no women council members. No women mayors that I can think of.”
As for Mayor Feinen, a woman inspired her to get involved with politics. Her mother was a circuit clerk for 20-years.
“I grew up knocking on doors and attending meetings and things like that and got very interested in public service.”
Feinen ran for county board right out of law school, serving 14-years. But, it wasn’t an easy journey as she was only one of two women serving during the time.
“It was hard to be taken seriously. It took a long time to earn the respect of the people that I work with. I think I was able to do that and over time.”
Later, she became a council member for the city of Champaign, then ran for mayor.
In Savoy, Mayor Dykstra has been an elected official since 1991. She served as county board member then became a trustee and, in 2017, she was elected mayor. She says, while a role in government comes with criticism, it’s doable.
“Politics is not for the faint of heart. It takes some courage to run for office and then it takes some time out from your life because most people do have regular jobs in addition to the public service.”
All three mayors encourage young women to get involved with politics.
“You start on maybe the planning commission of your town. It’s very doable. You work it into your schedule. You get a feel for your town. You find out if you’re really cut out for that. Then, you can go, I could run for trustee, I could run for mayor. The sky’s the limit. There’s nothing young women can’t do.”
“Girls need to be aware that they don’t need to be the note taker in the room. They don’t need to be the one who takes on every project as the man is getting up and walking out. That they should share their opinions and be assertive and they have a lot to give to this community or whatever it is that they decide to do.”
“People are finally accepting the fact that women deserve and we are demanding equal time and equal voice and equal say in things.”
Women serving as role models in leaderships for future generations aren’t limited to a few. St. Joseph, Decatur and Forsyth are some other area towns led by women.
Just this past midterm election season, a record 117 women won elections around the country.