Political Climate with Mark Simon: An unexpected controversy surrounding motherhood

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

The beauty of baseball, it is said, is that at every game you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. Even as 19th Century political philosopher Mr. Dooley observed that “Politics ain’t beanbag,” we can safely assert a 21st Century corollary: City Councils ain’t baseball.

Which is to say, far from seeing something you’ve never seen before, the famous assertion about baseball, the more likely city council scenario is that the status quo will be played out, over and over, in all its mind-numbingly status quo-ness.

Still, rescuing the status quo can come in surprising forms. Which brings us to the surprise provided us this week by the Redwood City Council, which split right down the middle on motherhood.

Lest you rush to judgment and assume it was the same old male-dominated political structure again refusing to acknowledge a changing world, this is a seven-member council with six women, all of whom were at the meeting, while the lone male, Mayor Ian Bain, was absent.

The split unfolded – it might be more accurate to say it spilled out – when the council took up the issue of whether new mothers should get special consideration when serving on local boards, committees and commissions. The clear message from half the council was that child-bearing women need not apply. These boards, commissions and committees, it should be noted, include the Housing and Human Concerns Committee. I reviewed all of this year’s committee meeting agendas, and not once did they take up the issue of motherhood.

The council was trying to set some rules for attendance on these boards, commissions and committees – miss a quarter of the meeting and you’re gone. Into the fray rode newly elected Giselle Hale, mother of two girls, who only several days ago was outraged that a woman had to sit on the floor of the restroom at the state Democratic convention and express milk from her breasts. Hale noted at the council meeting that when the breasts get too full, it’s painful and women are advised to tap the keg.

Hale proposed that new mothers be given a three-month leave from a board, commission or committee seat. A maternity hall pass, as it were. In fact, Hale would like it to be six months because the American Pediatric Association recommends newborns should nurse for six months.

This touched off a discussion that can only be described as an interesting display of how the status quo asserts itself.

Councilwoman Janet Borgens went first and because she’s such a genuinely likable person, a viewer might watch this with a mixture of amazement and sympathy.

In lengthy and somewhat meandering opposition to the Hale proposal, one comment by Borgens jumped out:

“I do respect the rights of a mother who has just given birth and has to nurse. I sit up here before you having gone through the same thing. But I made a decision during that time what my priorities would be. It wasn’t to take on something that was going to put me in an uncomfortable situation.”

Too late, it appears.

Here at Political Climate, we like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it sure looks like Borgens was saying new mothers who want to serve on these boards, commissions and committees have the wrong priorities.

Other comments didn’t approach Borgens’ level of fascination, but Vice Mayor Diane Howard did speak about how the city has more applicants than slots for all these boards, commissions and committees, and aren’t we lucky? In essence, don’t sign up if you can’t meet the exacting standards of this entirely voluntary activity, we have plenty of people who will be more than happy to take your place.

The council burbled about other seemingly related matters involving single fathers or parents who want to get home to see their kids and get restless when a Board of Building Review meeting runs past 10:30 p.m. and unconscionable delays to the city business because sometimes these boards, commissions and committees fail to have a quorum.

The central message was clearly that, even as a new, young generations asserts itself in Redwood City, the status quo is not ready to make accommodations for young mothers.

In the end, it was clearly 3-3, with Borgens, Howard and Diana Reddy uneasy about making exceptions for women with newborns, and Alicia Aguirre and Shelly Masur siding with Hale.

At Howard’s suggestion, the council put the matter off until Mayor Bain can return and add his voice to this discussion. Yes, they’re waiting for the lone man to come back and resolve this matter.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Photo credit: City of Redwood City