When it comes to getting women into politics, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz believes Pennsylvania has a long way to go.
It is one of 24 states never to have a woman as governor.
It currently has no women serving in statewide elected office.
And Schwartz, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District, is the only woman in the state’s 19-member U.S. House delegation.
In fact, Schwartz, who is serving her fourth term in the House and faces an opponent in this year’s election, lamented that she frequently had to run without the support of her own party — “outside the party structure.”
“Pennsylvania is particularly challenging for women in government,” Schwartz said in a speech at Chatham University, Monday, March 12.
But she also said she is playing a role in changing all that — in Pennsylvania, and nationwide. She is the national chair for recruiting for the House Democratic Campaign Committee in 2012, her job being to line up viable candidates to run in congressional districts that have been identified as winnable for the Democrats.
“One of my side jobs is to recruit Democratic women,” she said.
Women who run for office will likely face challenges that men don’t face, Schwartz said. For instance, women who run for public office must sometimes prove they are tough enough to survive in the political arena.
Those are challenges Schwartz still faces — even as an incumbent. She said she has won her races because, “I work hard, I’m prepared, I prove myself as a leader and a strong candidate.”
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Schwartz said women can be effective representatives when so many Americans are worried about “kitchen-table issues” affecting family finances.
Schwartz was in Pittsburgh to accept the 2012 Hollander Award for Women in Leadership, which is presented by Chatham’s Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics.
The award is named for the late Barbara Stone Hollander, a prominent Jewish Pittsburgh woman, and was established to recognize women leaders who make significant contributions to the community and serve as exemplary role models for other women. The Hollander family funds the award.
The daughter of a Korean War veteran and a refugee from Nazi-annexed Austria, Schwartz, the only Jew in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and most senior woman in elected office in Pennsylvania, said she was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to action to young people to get into politics.
She was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate in 1990 and served there until 2005 when she was first elected to the House from the 13th District, which includes northeast Philadelphia and eastern Montgomery County.
She and her husband, David Schwartz, have two sons.
In introducing Schwartz at last week’s program, Tom Hollander, Barbara Stone Hollander’s husband, referred to the congresswoman as “a health care hero” — a reference to her work in the state Senate to enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1992 and in Congress to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.
“Once I make a commitment to a challenge, I rarely walk away,” Schwartz said. “I try to find a way forward to get something done.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)