Originally created 01/05/02

Atlanta's new mayor stands out



ATLANTA - When Shirley Franklin takes the oath of office Monday to become the mayor of Atlanta, she will take an important distinction: She will be the only black woman leading a major city.

A handful of smaller cities - Hampton, Va.; Camden and Irvington, N.J.; and East Point near Atlanta - have black women as mayors. But Atlanta will be the only city to make the claim among the nation's 100 largest.

Minneapolis had a black female mayor, Sharon Sayles, until this week, when she was replaced by R.T. Rybak.

Ms. Franklin will be somewhat unusual simply as a female chief executive. Only one in five of the nation's mayors are women, and in larger cities the percentage is closer to one in 10.

"American democracy moves slowly," said Debbie Walsh, the executive director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "That is a factor in our country's stability, but it has meant a regrettable lag in fair representation of women in public decision-making."

Center statistics show the proportion of female mayors peaked in 1992, at 209 of the 985 U.S. cities with at least 30,000 people. The numbers have declined in part because those women have sought higher office, said Gilda Morales, the information director for the center.

Ms. Walsh said women have had to overcome stereotypes about the type of leadership they can provide.

"You see it in the kinds of electoral successes women have," she said. "We're more likely to be elected to positions where discussion and negotiation are important, like lawmaking, than we are to jobs calling for executive credentials."