Women dominate Bethlehem City Council primary, expected to shift gender balance for first time in history

Written by on April 8, 2021

 Women dominate Bethlehem City Council primary, expected to shift gender balance for first time in history

By Ben Stemrich

April 8, 2021

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay 

There are changes coming to the City of Bethlehem’s council as this year’s city council race will shift the gender balance of that body to a majority female for the first time in its history.

Listen to the story.

Bethlehem is made up of just under 52% women according to 2019 census data.

No matter how this year’s elections go, at least four of the seven Bethlehem city council members will be women. 

“For women engaging in politics at all levels right now, most of the indicators show it’s clearly moving upward. We’re seeing a larger number both who run, but who are successful at their runs,” says Christopher Borick, Political Science professor at Muhlenberg College. 

Depending who wins what seats, as many as six of the seven council members could be women.

Council member Grace Crampsie-Smith, who is running for reelection,  says that’s great for women, but not enough.

“From the statistical standpoint we are still really low in numbers as far as being really represented in politics,” Crampsie-Smith says. 

Pennsylvania is lagging behind most states when it comes to women in politics, Borick agrees.

“By almost every metric Pennsylvania has been a slow changer, if you will, in terms of seeing women move to more prominent roles in elected office, across all levels. We certainly see this at the state level,” Borick says. 

Rachel Leon is also running for one of the four available council seats. WLVR asked her what she thought of the race being mostly women. She has a different perspective.

“I kind of love that question, because it never gets asked in reverse. If it’s an all-male council it wouldn’t be like, how does it feel to be an all-male council, and it’s just an interesting thing to observe,” Leon says. 

For Leon, it’s more about who is the best candidate than the gender of the candidate. 

“I’m glad people are acknowledging it because it kind of shows maybe there has been a gender dynamic that isn’t inclusive or has been representative of the city but I don’t think it should be the focus of our run,” Leon says.

Councilwoman Crampsie-Smith says thinks women make better leaders than men.

“Being able to empathize, being able to communicate, being able to listen, being able to collaborate with others. Unfortunately, we are still at a point in time where males growing up are not socialized to do those things, to empathize and to collaborate and communicate. We’re getting there but we’re still not there,” Crampsie-Smith says. 

In addition to Smith and Leon, the race includes newcomers Hillary Kwiatek, Kiera Wilhelm, as well as the lone male, incumbent Brian Callaghan.

The primary is set for May 18, and because there are no Republicans running, the race will be determined in the primary.

Only registered Democrats will be able to vote in the Bethlehem City Council race.

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