Time to Scoot Over

Black women seek to provide leadership at decision-making tables

By Kimberly Peeler-Allen

At a recent Higher Heights luncheon in Washington DC, Donna Brazile said, “I didn’t get to (run Al Gore’s presidential campaign) because someone invited me to the table.  I got there because I brought my own folding chair!”

Two women who are currently trying to squeeze their folding chairs up to the table are Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to serve as Attorney General and Andrea Stewart-Cousins, New York State Senate Democratic Conference Leader.

There are many reasons why both women have not been included at decision making tables—partisan bickering and gamesmanship, the threat to the status quo, etc.--but at no point, however, has anyone questioned the qualifications of these women to accomplish the task at hand. 

This leaves only one conclusion:

When the people at the table truly reflect the voices of individuals they represent, things change.

Today, April 5th, is an unfortunate milestone.  It marks 147 days since Loretta Lynch was nominated to become the next Attorney General of the United States.  Tomorrow, Lynch’s nomination will become the longest delayed presidential nomination in over 30 years

Lynch would be the first Black women to serve as Attorney General and only the second women to hold the post.

Lynch is currently serving her second tenure as US Attorney for the Eastern District,  a position to which she was first appointed by President Clinton and served from 1999 to 2001.  She was reappointed by President Obama in 2010.  Throughout her career, Lynch has established her reputation by fighting public and corporate corruption. 

On the state and local level Black women are having an equally challenging time elbowing their way to the table. 

In 2012, State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins became the first woman leader of a legislative conference in New York State history.  This year, Senator Stewart-Cousins attempted to break the long-standing history of the "three men in the room" budget negotiations.  She thought it was important as the Governor and Legislative leaders decided on a $142 billion budget that a woman be part of the discussion.

Good government groups have criticized the process because of the lack of transparency and inclusion.  Historically the opaque negotiations have been done by “three men in a room”, the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader and the Governor.  This year, the Governor opted to include the leader of the Senate Independent Democrats Conference, a minor conference within the body.  Many saw this opening as an opportunity for the Minority Leader of the State Assembly and Democratic Leader of the State Senate to participate in the negotiation meetings.  The louder the call to include Leader Stewart-Cousins in the negotiations the more resistant the Governor became, until he ultimately canceled all in person meetings and only negotiated the final details of the budget through one-on-one conversations by phone. 

The final budget has been a big disappointment for working families and communities of color.  Among other provisions, increasing the state’s minimum wage and comprehensive juvenile justice reform were omitted from the final bill. If Leader Stewart-Cousins had been included in the final negotiations would those measures have ended up on the cutting room floor?  We’ll never know.

Shirley Chisholm once said, “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to our society just because that talent wears a skirt.”  It’s time that we as a nation recognize the value and the benefit that Loretta Lynch, Andrea Stewart-Cousins and countless other Black women bring to decision making tables and SCOOT OVER!!!!

Kimberly Peeler-Allen is Co-Founder of Higher Heights and formerly the principal of Peeler Allen Consulting, LLC the only Black woman led political fundraising firm in New York State.