Mar 8, 2023 - Politics

Women run the Triangle

Illustration of only queen chess pieces lined up.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Women represent more than half of local government positions in Wake County and wield influence as some of the most powerful elected and appointed officials in the Triangle.

Driving the news: Women were elected last year to serve as district attorney and mayor, and both police chiefs are women in Wake and Durham counties. They outnumber men on both Raleigh and Durham's city councils, and chair both counties' boards of commissioners.

Why it matters: It hasn't always been this way. Men have held a disproportionate amount of power for much of our country and state's history.

The big picture: Organizations with a mandate of recruiting women for public office have sprouted up in recent years. The rise of polarizing political figures like former president Trump, who has a history of making controversial remarks about women, has also coincided with an increase in women running for office.

Zoom in: Raleigh has only had three female mayors, with the first elected in the 1970s. Durham elected its first female mayor in the 90s.

  • "If women aren't at the table, the issues that affect women disproportionately simply don't get addressed," Congresswoman Deborah Ross told Axios.
  • "We're making tremendous progress. That was not the case even 10 years ago."

Get to know some of the top women representing the Triangle:

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who's served since 2019 and served on city council for 10 years prior to that.

Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal, a former judge, was elected in 2021 as the first Black woman to serve in the position.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who was elected in 2015. She previously served as an Orange County Commissioner led the Chapel Hill–Carrboro City School Board.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, one of the most powerful county prosecutors in the state. In the last year alone, she's pursued charges against State Auditor Beth Wood, Attorney General Josh Stein and the teenager who killed five in Raleigh's Hedingham neighborhood in October.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry, who won re-election last year. During her campaign, she touted her efforts to lead reforms in the criminal justice system.

Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson, who was appointed in 2021. Patterson previously served in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews led the Morrisville Police Department before taking the helm in Durham in 2021.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew became the city's first woman to lead the department at the start of this year. She's climbed the ranks in her nearly two decades in the department.

Wendell Mayor Virginia Gray, who assumed the position in 2016.

Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones, who is in her sixth term.

Knightdale Mayor Jessica Day, who was appointed after the previous mayor resigned in 2021.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Chapel Hill police chief Celisa Lehew.


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