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Picture: Denise-Marie Santiago Denise-Marie Santiago grew up in the Rochester's Bull's Head area. She started writing for newspapers during her sophomore year at Our Lady of Mercy High School and went on to the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her first paying job was covering town government at the now-defunct Rochester Times-Union. She packed her Chevette two years later and drove alone across the country to work at the Los Angeles Times. The following year, she returned to the East Coast to write news and features for The Philadelphia Inquirer. After 10 years, she took a leave to listen to music and eat wonderful food while running her brother's jazz club in Rochester. Soon after, she gave up her Philadelphia job to marry one of the customers. They live in Brighton with their two children.
Women's climb to governmental power far too slow

(November 10, 2006) So how does the White House welcome the soon-to-be first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and second in line to the presidency?

"And in my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators," President Bush said at a news conference this week, "who can help her pick out the new drapes in her office."

I know what you're thinking. What do you expect from a guy who thinks nothing of massaging the female German chancellor's neck and shoulders during a meeting of the G-8 Summit, as he did this summer? Don't be so sensitive.

If you ask me, though, that's just what we need: A little more sensitivity, to go along with a lot more impatience.

It's been 100 years since the death of the woman known for championing the political voice of her sisters. Susan B. Anthony died before women won the right to vote in 1920.

Women have since achieved a list of political firsts. New Yorker Frances Perkins, first female appointee to a presidential Cabinet, in 1933. Patsy Mink, first woman of color to serve in the House, in 1965. Sandra Day O'Connor, first female associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1981.

But the changes have come agonizingly slowly, seemingly at every level of government.

Last week, for example, the Susan B. Anthony Center for Women's Leadership at the University of Rochester released a report on the status of women in New York state's local governments. The study showed that female representation in the state's 57 county legislatures has increased less than 1 percent, from 16.6 percent to 17.4 percent, between 2002 and 2006.

There are no women in six county legislatures, including in Orleans County. (Calls this week to its chairman were not returned.)

On the up side, the study notes that more women have taken up leadership positions since the center's first report in 2002. The number of female county executives, for example, is up from one to three, including Monroe's Maggie Brooks.

"Yes, we're making progress," says Nora Bredes, the Anthony Center's director and a force behind the regional celebration of the early feminist's legacy. "But the question is, why so slow?"

That's not necessarily an issue shared en masse, especially now that Pelosi stands to achieve what no other woman has. Too, Rep. Louise Slaughter is expected to head the powerful House Rules Committee and a woman could lead the House Intelligence Committee.

In terms of sheer numbers, though, women are still woefully underrepresented in Congress. Women gained just five congressional seats in the election, for a grand total of 86 women out of 535 members.

My question is whether Pelosi's performance will be a true measure of how women lead.

Bredes, herself a former Suffolk County legislator, says no. Without an infusion of more women into the process, the House will run by the values of its male-dominated members.

So given the choice between, say, a female president or 60 percent women in Congress, Bredes would take the latter.

"I think that would be the more revolutionary change," she says.

But the real lesson may be in how slow change does come.

"Maybe you can't have that kind of cultural shift in 100 years," Bredes says. "Maybe that's the nature of cultural change.

"But we are further ahead than we were 100 years ago," Bredes says, "and that's good."

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