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Main | SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Solar A Great Thing To Do Something We Have To Do »

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP- Women Underrepresented In Elected Offices



By Karl Grossman

There has never been a woman representing Suffolk County in the U.S. House of Representatives and there has never been a woman representing Suffolk in the New York State Senate—but that will end in the new year when Monica R. Martinez becomes a state senator.

The story of Ms. Martinez, born in El Salvador, an educator who had to sacrifice what was higher pay in her position as a middle school assistant principal after becoming a Suffolk County legislator, is a very American story especially in regard to the changing demographics of the United States.

“I came to this country at the age of three,” related Ms. Martinez of Brentwood in her literature during her run for the State Senate. “My parents sacrificed so much and fought so hard to give me the opportunity to succeed that I have dedicated my life to the belief we must make the opportunity to fulfill the American dream available to everyone. That is the reason I attended college and became a teacher, it is the reason I stepped up to serve the community in the Suffolk County Legislature, and it is the reason I am running today for the New York State Senate.”

Well, that’s the good news.

The bad news: there are but two females among the 10 town supervisors in Suffolk and there will be only men representing Suffolk in the U.S. House of Representatives—the case for more than two centuries. Although Ms. Martinez broke through a political glass ceiling, the other four senators from Suffolk will be men. And further, of the 12 members of the State Assembly representing Suffolk, only one in the new year will be a woman. 

One out of 12! That’s not fair or equitable considering that women comprise more than 50 percent of Suffolk County’s 1.5 million population. 

There have been two women in the Suffolk Assembly delegation this year and last. But incumbent Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino lost in last month’s election. 

The one woman in Suffolk’s Assembly delegation will be Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre of Wheatley Heights who was re-elected to a third two-year term. She is the daughter of immigrants to the U.S. from Haiti. Like Ms. Martinez, who received a bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, a master’s degree in secondary education from NYU and an administrative degree in school leadership from Stony Brook University, Ms. Jean-Pierre is also well-educated. She received a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s in public policy from Stony Brook University.

Both have extensive community experience, Ms. Martinez as a high school social studies teacher and school administrator and Ms. Jean-Pierre as director of the Wyandanch Resource Center and before that a vice president of the Babylon Town Industrial Agency. And before that Ms. Jean-Pierre worked as community outreach director for former U.S. Representative Steve Israel and was an aide to Suffolk Legislator DuWayne Gregory, presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature. Speaking of glass ceilings, he is the first African-American to attain what is considered the Number 2 position in Suffolk after county executive, 

“On the stumps and on the march, women broke down barriers in 2018,” was the post-election headline in The Christian Science Monitor. The headline was moderated with a sub-head in the middle of the page noting: “Women’s representation in federal government jumped in 2018, but they still make up less than a quarter of Congress.”

The U.S and Suffolk County still have far to go in terms of females in elected office.

Suffolk has already come far on this, relatively. When I first started covering Suffolk County in the 1960s, the county’s governing board, the centuries-old Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, made up of the supervisors of each of the county’s 10 towns, consisted of ten men. Its members throughout its history were only guys, white guys, incidentally.

The big breakthrough in terms of females in government in Suffolk County came in 1973 with the election of Judith Hope as East Hampton Town supervisor, the first woman town supervisor in Suffolk. Ms. Hope, however, was too late to be a member of the Suffolk Board of Supervisors, it having been phased out in 1970 for a Suffolk Legislature based on districts of equal population, a result of one-person-one-vote court decisions. The Suffolk Legislature has had an OK, but not great, female membership—currently five of the 18 legislative seats are held by women. Among them is Leslie Kennedy of Nesconset whose district includes Smithtown  And women have been presiding officers of the legislature. 

Ms. Hope went on to become chairwoman of the New York State Democratic Party—the first woman to head a major political party in New York State. And she subsequently launched the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee committed to the important mission of bringing more women into elected office in the state.


Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. 

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