Lonely in Pennsylvania: Why More Women Should Run

March 22, 2018 - (4 min read)

Across the country, women knit together the fabric of our communities. As residents, business entrepreneur and, of course, as local officials, women lead by action and example. At the National League of Cities, we’re proud of the women who have answered the call of service and taken office. NLC celebrates them this month by sharing their voices and stories on our website, blog and social media channels. 

This is a guest post by Chelsa Wagner, Controller, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

The saying goes, “if women aren’t at the table, they’re on the menu.” In Pennsylvania, which was recently ranked 49th out of the 50 states in female elected officials, the proof is in the pudding.

Gender inequity has a tangible impact on our lives. For example: 77 percent of families living in poverty in Pittsburgh are headed by single mothers, 60 percent of minimum wage earners in Pennsylvania are women, and Allegheny County has a higher number of domestic violence fatalities than any other Pennsylvania county.

In 2012, I became the first woman to serve as Allegheny County Controller, and am currently the only woman holding any of the seven offices elected at-large in the County of 1.2 million which includes Pittsburgh.

Previously, I served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In 2006, I was one of the first two women ever elected to a full term representing the City of Pittsburgh. During my second and third terms, I was the only woman elected from Allegheny County, which contains 22 districts. Today, our County still has only one female state legislator.

I am very proud to be one of just a handful of women to have overcome the roadblocks that have been set up—intentionally or not—to women holding elected office here. There are great rewards that come with jumping over those roadblocks. The challenge we each face today is to bring more women along with us.

During Women’s History Month, we recognize so many women who have achieved amazing things despite adversity. But for all the women who have attained high office or entered the history books, there are many others whose impact is unknown today, or may be known to us alone. Women like this inspired those who believed they could change the laws of our nation, those who believed they could make them just as well as men could, and every woman in office today.

Likewise, each of us has a duty to inspire another woman to believe that she can accomplish what the world seems to say she cannot.

Last year, I and three other women in the Pittsburgh area who had run for or held elected office decided to take our own distinct role in this effort by forming Women for the Future of Pittsburgh PAC. WTF—pun fully intended—provides support and guidance to female candidates in order to foster a pipeline of women for higher office and pursue gender parity in all levels of government.

Through the example we set with our own success, we can make change. As women leaders, we each have this opportunity. Let’s take advantage of it.

Want more of this kind of content? Join the Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) group to  learn more about their work and priorities. 


Chelsa WagnerAbout the author: Chelsa Wagner took office as Allegheny County (Pa.) Controller in 2012, the first woman to hold that office. She oversees annual expenditures of $1.5 billion and is committed to transparency, efficiency, accountability and innovation in County government. Chelsa is a Pittsburgh native and a graduate of the University of Chicago and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Before seeking public office, she worked as a private sector business analyst and an attorney in private practice.