WHEW! Election Day 2021 was a nailbiter for the books! Black women candidates made major political gains in some states, and were locked in a few races too close to call in others. From City Hall to lieutenant governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, and special congressional elections in Florida and Ohio, we are here with the rundown for you.
VIRGINIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Republican Winsome E. Sears defeated Democrat Hala S. Ayala for lieutenant governor of Virginia, becoming the first Black woman to win a statewide election in Virginia. “I’m telling you that what you are looking at is the American dream,” Sears said during her election night victory speech.
Sears is a wife, mother and former Marine who was also elected to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-2004. Her 2021 campaign focuses on cutting taxes and cost of living while boosting small business and easing regulations that hinder economic growth.
Ayala, a cybersecurity specialist and mother who was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, congratulated Sears for “making history and paving the way for future women leaders who look like us.”
NEW JERSEY LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR
Democrat Sheila Oliver is seeking re-election as lieutenant governor in New Jersey on the ticket with incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, who is trying to become the first Democratic New Jersey governor since 1977 to win re-election. The race is too close to call, with a razor-thin margin between Murphy and Republican opponent Jack Ciattarelli.
A native of Newark, Oliver was elected in 2017 as the first woman of color chosen for statewide office in New Jersey. She is also the first Black woman Democrat to be elected lieutenant governor.
Oliver holds a bachelor of science degree in sociology from Lincoln University, and a master’s degree in community organization, planning, and administration from Columbia University. She served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2004-2017, and became speaker of the Assembly in 2009.
Already at the helm of eight of the country’s 100 largest cities (Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.), the sisters are looking to continue marching to local power in 2021. Voters in New Orleans will decide whether to keep incumbent LaToya Cantrell in office, while voters in Durham, N.C. chose their first Black woman mayor.
The crowded race to succeed outgoing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has come down to a runoff election between City Council President Felicia Moore and City Councilman Andre Dickens. Unofficial returns show Moore garnered 40.8 percent of the vote, while Dickens, an Atlanta native, took 23 percent to edge past former mayor Kasim Reed by roughly 600 votes.
If elected, Moore would be Atlanta’s third Black woman mayor, following Bottoms and former Mayor Shirley Franklin. She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List and the Professional Association of City Employees, among others. Franklin, who served two terms from 2002-2010, backed Dickens. Bottoms has not endorsed a candidate.
A native of Indianapolis, Moore is a graduate of Central State University and earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. She was elected to the Atlanta City Council in 1997 and was elected council president in 2017. In 2011, she championed pension reform, and authored legislation to create the “Mattie’s Call” alert system for helping to find mentally impaired adults who go missing.
The runoff will be held Nov. 30.
Progressive newcomer Democrat India Walton lost to incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, Buffalo’s first Black mayor, who launched an aggressive write-in campaign in hopes of keeping the office he has held for 16 years. Walton defeated Brown in the June Democratic primary.
Mayor Brown’s write-in campaign received a lot of support from older and more established African Americans in Buffalo, while younger Black, progressive voters leaned toward Walton.
Elaine O’Neal was elected the first Black woman mayor of Durham, N.C., her hometown. She topped a seven-candidate field in the primary election last month, drawing 68 percent of the vote. Her nearest challenger, city councilwoman Javiera Caballero, suspended her campaign last month after coming in second to O’Neal.
A former District Court Judge, O’Neal, 59, served on the bench for 17 years and is the first woman named Chief District Judge in Durham County. She retired in 2018, and became interim dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law. That same year, Mayor Steve Schewel appointed O’Neal as chair of the city’s Racial Equity Task Force. O’Neal is a graduate of NCCU and the NCCU School of Law.
The New Orleans mayoral race brings up the rear of the November elections. The October 9, 2021 primary election was pushed to November 13, following storm damage from Hurricane Ida. The predominantly Democratic city will likely decide the next mayor this month, but if a run off is necessary, a general election is scheduled for December 11.
The crowded candidate pool of features a mix of Democrats and Independents and a lone Republican. Among these candidates registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office, are two people that identify as Black and female: Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Leilani Heno.
Mayor Cantrell is a wife, mother and community advocate turned elected official. She joined the New Orleans City Council in 2012 and later became the Crescent City’s first female mayor in 2018. The Democratic incumbent negotiated the Fair Share Agreement to provide long term funding for city infrastructure needs. She also led efforts for a tax on short-term rentals and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission to combat discrimination.
Henro is unaffiliated with any political party. She’s a business owner who describes herself as, “a fed-up citizen, who pays her taxes on time, crosses her “t’s”, dots her “i’s”, maintains her property, and supports her fellow business owners, who is watching the City that she loves decline,” according to her campaign website.
On Our Radar:
Florida’s 20th Congressional District
The special Democratic primary for the Florida congressional seat formerly held by the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., appears headed for a recount.
Unofficial results showed a virtual dead heat between health care company CEO Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who ran against Hastings in 2018 and 2020. and Broward County and former mayor Dale Holness.
Cherfilus-McCormick and Holness were separated by fewer than 100 votes. Under Florida law, a machine recount happens automatically for vote margins of half a percentage point or less. A hand recount occurs when the margin is a quarter percentage point or less.
Hastings, who served in Congress for nearly 30 years, died earlier this year of pancreatic cancer. The victor in the Democratic primary will compete against Jason Mariner, the winner of the Republican primary, in a special election on January 11, 2022.
Ohio’s 11th Congressional District
Check out the Election Watch by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics Election Watch to learn about women candidates seeking office in 2021 and 2022.
Our friends at Higher Heights recently released a report assessing the state of Black women in American politics. The upshot is this: Black women make up 7.8 percent of the U.S. population but only 1.9 percent of officials elected to statewide office — and ZERO percent of sitting members of the U.S. Senate. They had a whole discussion of these findings that you can watch right here: