Local women leaders comment on the election of Kamala Harris

Written by on November 12, 2020

Local women leaders comment on the election of Kamala Harris

By Genesis Ortega

November 12, 2020

Click here for all of our election coverage.

Cheryl Johnson Watts [Left], Cynthia Mota [Middle], and Laureen Pellegrino [Right]. Photos provided by Genesis Ortega / WLVR

Kamala Harris is making history. The vice president-elect has broken through the glass ceiling that has kept women out of the White House and underrepresented in politics as a whole.

Listen to the story.

WLVR’s Community Correspondent Genesis Ortega reached out to Lehigh Valley elected officials – women of color – for their reaction to the election of the historic Biden/Harris ticket and what this may mean for women in politics going forward. 

When Kamala Harris took the stage for the first time as vice president-elect, Allentown City Councilwoman Cynthia Mota was watching with her daughter. 

“I think that she will tell her children, and if she has a daughter, she will say this to her daughter; that she was able to witness the impossible.”

As the city’s first Afro-Latina to be elected to council, Mota says it’s important for women of color to be in leadership positions. 

“And seeing a woman like Kamala Harris be the vice president of this country is so powerful. It’s giving us hope. It’s showing little girls like my daughter that one day she could be, if she wishes, the president of the United States.”

Nazareth Borough’s first Black councilwoman, Laureen Pellegrino, agrees — and she says it’s about time.

“So when people are like, it’s so great that she got a chance to have this opportunity — I mean it’s an opportunity that she should’ve had a long time ago, all women of color should’ve had a long time ago,” said Pellegrino.

Pellegrino says the problem is underrepresentation of women in politics. Period. 

“The reality is opportunities are not forthcoming as they should be. We are more than 50% of the population and yet our voices are probably the most silent out of the population.”

Women make up only a quarter of the General Assembly, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics. 

Women of color are an even smaller fraction – and there are none representing the Lehigh Valley in Harrisburg. 

Pellegrino says Black women are often overqualified for the jobs they fill – and that family commitments, finances and negative stereotypes get in the way. 

Allentown School Board Member Cheryl Johnson Watts ran for mayor last year. She says she checked off all the boxes in terms of qualifications, but other obstacles remained. 

“I think the biggest obstacle was navigating the path of being too much of a threat. So there’s a balancing act for women that is less necessary I believe for men,” she said.

Johnson Watts would have been the city’s first Black and first female mayor. Looking forward, she says it would benefit the community overall to elect diverse candidates. 

“I think it’s more about removing the barriers than it is about finding those people. Because the people are out there. But the barriers are constantly being put in front of them,” said Johnson Watts.

As for Harris’ election, Johnson Watts says it means the country was willing to take another step forward. 

Nazareth Councilwoman Laureen Pellegrino is celebrating that step, but she worries it might make people complacent. 

“This is not the end game until you can sit around and have adequate representation across all: We have our Latina sisters, our Asian sisters that still do not have a voice,” said Pellegrino.

As for Allentown Councilwoman Cynthia Mota, she hopes Harris’ win will inspire more women of color to get into politics. 

“Sometimes we think we don’t qualify, we’re not able to do this. And my God we’re so smart, and we’re more than capable. So this is going to be a new beginning for all of us as females.”

Pennsylvania has yet to elect a woman of color to state-wide office, Congress, or the Senate. 

Sign up for our WLVR weekly newsletter to stay up to date with the latest news from the Lehigh Valley and across Pennsylvania.


Current track