Kunin issues call to political action

Kunin issues call to political action

Former Vermont governor will speak in Tenafly

When Madeleine Kunin, three-time governor of Vermont, took the reins of political power, she thought “the floodgates had been opened and women would rush through.”

That, she says, has not happened. Indeed, she told The Jewish Standard, “the progress has been quite slow.”

To help address, and redress, the situation, Kunin has written “Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Learn and Lead” (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008). On Feb. 23, she will discuss that book at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

The Hon. Madeleine Kunin

“Women in Iraq demanded a 25 percent quota” of seats in recent elections, Kunin said. “Thousands ran at the risk of their lives. We’re behind other countries. I’m trying to figure it out.”

Kunin’s career represents a lot of firsts – among them, first female governor of Vermont, first Jewish governor of Vermont, first Jewish woman to be elected governor of a state, and first woman to be elected governor three times.

Former deputy secretary of education and ambassador to Switzerland under President Bill Clinton, she agrees with N.J. state Sen. Loretta Weinberg that women tend to enter politics because of a local issue, often related to family. But while Weinberg’s issue was securing more shade trees for Teaneck, Kunin’s mission was “to get a flashing red light at a railroad crossing. I was a worried Jewish mother,” she said.

Still, she noted, politics is a lot more complicated than that, and women need to get used to words such as “power” and “ambition.”

Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Learn and Lead
Presentation by the Hon. Madeleine M. Kunin

Monday, February 23, 8 p.m., Kaplen JCC on the Palisades.

Book sale and signing after the presentation.

Tickets, $8 and $10, are available at the JCC front desk.

To purchase by mail, send a check, payable to the JCC, attn: Jewish Book Month.

To charge by phone using Visa/MC/Amex, call (201)569-7900, ext. 596.

For group sales and more information, call Ophrah Listokin, ext. 433, or Stephanie Cangro, ext. 435.

“Power doesn’t have to be a negative word,” she said. “While [politics] is competitive and power won’t be handed to you, I look upon it as the power to empower others,” said Kunin, who has mentored both men and women looking to run for office.

“I think American women assume that they’re [already] equal,” she said, trying to explain why more women here don’t run for office. Pointing to the power of role models, she said that the presence in political life of women such as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi might help shift the balance.

While her Jewishness was never an issue during her tenure as governor, said Kunin, it did surface between 1997 and 1999, while she was serving as ambassador to Switzerland.

“The whole issue of Jewish bank accounts came up,” she said, referring to Holocaust victims’ deposits in Swiss banks during World War II.

“I was regarded as the ‘Jewish American ambassador.’ It was both a challenge and an opportunity. It felt special,” she noted, adding that it gave her “a sense of mission.”

Author of “Living a Political Life,” Kunin, a resident of Burlington, Vt., is James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont, lecturing on history and women’s studies. She also serves as president of the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), a nongovernmental organization she founded in 1991.

While her first book focused on her own political journey, “Pearls, Politics, and Power”

draws from interviews with scores of elected women leaders at all levels of government. Not only does it detail their personal experiences, but it also provides history, statistics, and advice.

According to a statement from the Tenafly JCC, Kunin’s upcoming presentation will focus on the book, answering questions such as “What difference do women make? What is the worst part of politics, and what is the best part? What inspired these women to run, and how did they prepare themselves for public life? How did they raise money, protect their families’ privacy, deal with criticism and attack ads, and work with the ‘good ole boys’?”

Kunin said studies have revealed that women tend to work in a more bipartisan way. “They’re less confrontational,” she said, adding that women tend to “compromise and get it done. Women bring different life experiences into the political arena,” she said, pointing out that women have often led the charge on issues such as health care, education, and the environment.

“It’s not that men are not interested in these issues,” she said, “but the agenda changes when women are in power,” she noted, explaining that she had stressed health care during her tenure as governor.

Nevertheless, while compromise is the preferred strategy, she said, sometimes it is necessary to be decisive. The key is to “be true to yourself and fight for what you believe in,” she said.

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