Blazing the Trail, Part 1

Four Female Central Pa. Politicians Making Change Happen

by Jill Gleeson, Photography by Paul Vasiliades and Michelle Yinger

Pennsylvania can do better. At a time when Democrats have nominated a female presidential candidate, the Keystone State is trailing behind most of the nation in the proportion of women holding public office.

According to data released in April from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, only about 18 percent of our state policy makers are female. That’s far enough below the national average (still dismally low at less than a quarter) that we rank just 40th in the country for ratio of male-to-female state legislators. Last year, only nine out of 50 state senators and 36 out of 203 representatives were women. Pennsylvania has never elected a woman Governor or U.S. Senator.

There are some bright spots, however. In 2000, the legislature offered 32 female lawmakers. As of last year, we’re at 45. Pennsylvania also boasts four female mayors in towns with populations over 30,000.

Some of the smartest, strongest women in the state hold public office, as epitomized by the following four officials. Democrat and Republican, of varying backgrounds and races, they are united not only by their often-historic political roles, but also their drive to make life better for their fellow Pennsylvanians. Change-makers all, they are proof-positive that Commonwealth women can lead.


York Mayor Kim Bracey


It’s about getting things done.

Ask City of York Mayor Kim Bracey what especially valuable traits female public servants offer, and she replies without hesitation, “It’s a sense of urgency. We want it done now. We are the ultimate multi-taskers and not just because we’re mothers, grandmothers, aunties, housekeepers and home makers, but we do all those things well on top of an 8-to-5 job. I love that about our women elected leaders.”

Bracey, a Democrat, now in the midst of her second term, got her start in politics when former York Mayor John Brenner appointed her Community Development Director. After Brenner decided not to seek another term, Bracey stepped in and was elected the city’s first African-American mayor and second female mayor in 2009.

Violent crime is now at its lowest rate in three decades in York, and this year’s budget includes a reduction in property taxes – the first in the city’s modern history. But that’s not all.

“When I took office, it was all about getting the Northwest Triangle completed,” says Bracey, a York native who served in the Air Force for more than 10 years. “And we’re getting close. We just entered into a six-month, exploratory agreement with a developer. This could be the real thing here – finally – with regard to the Triangle, and that’s going to be great.”

Bracey credits her grandmother, a missionary who worked with the homeless, for instilling in her the desire for public service – a desire she’s happy to foster now in turn.

“I get the opportunity to visit with our school-age kids,” says Bracey, “and I see it in their eyes. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re the mayor!’ I think seeing a woman in this role is inspiring to them. And it’s not just the little girls; it’s the boys, too. It’s very humbling and an honor to know that I give the young people a bit of inspiration.”

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine