Toledo’s female leaders in politics joined the Political Science Students Association for its Women in Politics Panel Discussion April 11.
Among the panelists were former Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez,
Toledo City Councilor at-large member Sandy Spang and Sydney Jones, fourth-year political science
major, president of College Democrats and vice president of PSSA.
Moderated by PSSA Head of Public Relations, Kayla Williams, the panelists started off the event discussing their inspiration behind pursuing a career in politics.
“If you don’t get involved, someone is going to make decisions for you, and you will ultimately have to live with those decisions,” Lopez said. “Right from the beginning, I wanted to be someone who could make
decisions, rather than hoping someone would make good decisions for me.”
Spang highlighted how politics was not her first career choice, and how true passion can come later in life.
“I think people reinvent themselves many times in life, and I think women especially reinvent themselves many times,” Spang said. “Although I can say I was very involved in the community and was interested in politics, I was actually an art major in college.”
Spang relayed the story of her and her husband managing a strip of properties in the Beverly neighborhood in Toledo. The success of her work led to her career in local government.
“I bought a building right at the beginning of the recession, and now, that is a vibrant little strip in the Beverly neighborhood,” Spang said. “I am a problem-solver at heart, but the part I really like is the ability to connect people and make a difference.”
The panelists also discussed the advice they would have given to themselves at the start of their respective careers.
“My advice is to be braver and instead of sitting in the back of the room, sit in the front,” said Hicks-Hudson.
“Be fearless, be relentless, but also be respectful,” Lopez said. “It’s not going to be as easy as it sounds. It’s hard to push change.”
All panelists emphasized the need for hard work to make it in politics, but Spang also pointed out the importance of rest.
“I had this sense that I always had to be in motion,” Spang said. “I wish I had been willing to let myself take a gap.”
Spang also stressed the importance of maintaining a core set of networks as one’s career progresses.
“If you lose touch with people as time goes by, you will sometimes regret it,” Spang said. “As you grow and your sphere of influence increases, you need more people.”
Jones wishes she could tell her freshman self to “unapologetically” be herself.
“I feel like a lot of times as women, especially as a black woman, I have felt the need to dial myself back and keep some of my dreams to myself,” Jones said. “Now I’m at a place where I’ll speak up and stand up for myself.”
The discussion then turned to what each panelist was proud of in their respective careers.
Lopez was pleased with her continued efforts to “restore government faith in the community.”
Hicks-Hudson mentioned her work towards the downtown Toledo renaissance of recent years and the handling of the 2014 water crisis as highlights of her time as mayor.
The floor was then opened to questions, where both Lopez and Jones shared their aspirations to work in federal government.
Spang talked about her current goal of running for local office.
“I am seeking the position of County Commissioner because I’ve come to understand what an impact that office can have and some of the things I’ve become really passionately interested in,” Spang said.
All four panelists agreed that women still face many obstacles in the political world, and each shared their stories of how gender barriers affected their professional goals
“I think the biggest barrier I faced when I became mayor was the thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle the job and that men would have to come in and be the ones that would do the job,” Hicks-Hudson said.
When she was pregnant, men questioned Lopez’s ability to complete a political campaign and the job.
“I had to explain to them that not only am I capable physically and mentally of running a campaign, but it should be irrelevant whether or not I am pregnant,” Lopez said. “It is my decision, not yours. I want people to know that I am proud to be an intelligent, powerful and fearless female.”
Jones described the misogyny she faced while volunteering in a national campaign recently.
“When you’re spending 12-15 hours seven days per week with the same group of people, the lines of professionalism get blurred,” Jones said. “I found that misogyny crosses all political parties. There were people who think you don’t really deserve to be there and who think you only got that position because I’m feminine and have a certain personality.”
Spang touched on external barriers to her career, but also highlighted internal barriers that women especially face.
“You may have some internal messages that create barriers that you’re going to need to overcome,” Spang said.
The American Association of University Women and Women of Toledo sponsored the event, and ended the event with each emphasizing how women can succeed in Politics.
“I hope that they know that they can run for office, that great things come out of the University of Toledo and that it’s important for women to be supportive of those who run for office and that opportunities exist if you’re dedicated and willing to work hard,” Lopez said.