Kelli Linville chuckles as she recalls how people occasionally mistake her husband for the mayor of Bellingham—a job she’s held since 2012.
White men still predominate in the halls of government from Washington D.C. to Whatcom County, but increasingly women are carving out an important role—especially here.
Just check out, for instance, today’s city halls in the North Sound. Three of the biggest cities all have elected women mayors: Bellingham, Mount Vernon, and Anacortes, and they are among 38 women mayors in Washington state this year, up from 11.
Women have held elected offices in Washington for about a century. Recent mayoral elections have drawn attention. Last year, Seattle elected its first woman mayor since 1928, Everett elected its first in November, and nearby cities of Tacoma, Kent, Issaquah, and Auburn all have women mayors. They join dozens of other elected women now in city government, Olympia and Washington, D.C.
In the North Sound, we spoke to the three mayors about their thoughts regarding women leaders, politics, and serving the public. (Spoiler alert: they all love their jobs!)
A Bellingham native, Mayor Kelli Linville was elected the city’s first woman mayor after 17 years in the Washington State House. She was re-elected for 2016.
Mayor Laurie Gere was re-elected to a second four-year term in November after years as a community activist and businesswoman.
Mayor Jill Boudreau is also in her second term—re-elected for 2016, she had had a career in public service, hospice care and the police department.
Boudreau wasn’t happy with her previous representation and decided, “If he can do it, I can do it better.” She’s currently serving her second term as mayor. With a background of working in police department administration and ending her service as the Community Service Officer, the no-nonsense leader expects government representatives to put aside partisan differences and work together to solve problems. Boudreau, 51, explained that the bottom line of government is to solve problems on behalf of the people, not take sides.
“Let’s talk about real issues.”
The mayor takes her job seriously, believing she can’t help Mount Vernon’s citizens without knowing their concerns, so she hosts weekly coffee meetings. Citizens can meet with Boudreau in an informal setting to exchange their complaints, questions, and concerns. She believes, as a government representative, being available is a necessity and that a “high level of engagement creates transparency and trust.”
Linville, 69, began her career alongside long-term legislators like state senator Mary Margaret Haugen and state representative Karen Schmidt, so for her, women in politics isn’t a novelty.
Although she’s thrilled about women serving in government, Linville wants qualified, competent people serving in our government. She has found, on the whole, women tend to be more solution-based when it comes to passing legislation. She believes candidates should “be straight with people” by expressing and sticking to their principles from the start, instead of trying to please everyone.
It’s also important, with the onslaught of partisan campaigning fueled by excess funding, that candidates remember the “job is to do the best thing for the public, not groups, parties, or yourself.” The first female president is coming, and she’ll get into office by “making sure she can relate to the needs of average people in an authentic way,” says Linville. If she’s honest, competent, and can take the heat, she’ll enjoy the view from the Oval Office.
In Anacortes, Gere, began her public service career about 35 years ago when she opened up a small business. Main street business owners often gravitate to community involvement, and Gere was no exception. She started out serving on the Chamber of Commerce, then one opportunity led to another until she found herself with all the tools, abilities, and motivation to serve as mayor. Reflecting on her experience, she thought, “I can bring something to the table.”
Gere, 65, is happy to serve a nonpartisan role and believes local government is still reflective of a true democracy where there’s more collaboration and people’s opinions are voiced but not tethered to party lines.
“We need to get back to a place where the different parties respect each other,” she says. Solutions and progress stall when legislators refuse to collaborate. When it’s your job to find solutions on behalf of the public and partisanship prevents that, it means you’re not doing your job.
Gere is happy to have more female representation in government, but cares more about the bottom line: “As long as you have a servant’s heart and you’re willing to serve, I don’t care who’s next to me as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons.”