City Hall

In Dallas Mayoral Race, Is Angela Hunt's the Only Personal Life That Matters?

I'm guessing the male "potential candidates" for mayor listed in a Wednesday Dallas Morning News article have personal lives. They're probably in relationships or unmarried singles. Some of 'em might have kids. Others could have ailing or aging parents they're responsible for. Maybe one or two once had or is having stressful marital problems.

I'm guessing that because I don't know. I don't know because after reading the article, the only person whose personal life was mentioned was Angela Hunt's, and she is, for the moment at least, the only female potential candidate. She's got a baby at home. Gromer Jeffers Jr. speculates that her "ability to run an aggressive campaign could be affected by her new family."

Of course, Ron Natinsky or Mike Rawlings might have things going on at home too. But we don't know much about that, because in the very early stages of this year's mayoral campaign, a classically ignorant, sexist political trope is already at work: Women's personal lives matter if they intend to get into politics. Men's? Maybe. Maybe if they really screw things up while they're actually on the job, like John "Is My Dead Wife's Corpse Cold Yet?" Edwards or Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. Maybe if they do something considered deviant, like cheat on their wives or have gay sex, men's personal lives matter.

But for women, having personal lives is the problem. Something as normal and wonderful as having a family is seen as a "con." An actual con! The fact that Angela Hunt is married with a kid is a bad thing. Because while men have women in their lives to take care of all that boring family shit, women are asked to juggle both the public and private sphere. And you'll remember, of course, that the public sphere is jam-packed with things women may not be able to handle because every once in a while, some of them, like Angela Hunt, give birth to babies. Lest us ladies forget our place, The Dallas Morning News is happy to remind us where we really belong.

I e-mailed Jeffers and asked him: "Was wondering what aspects of male candidates' personal lives you felt would keep them from running quality campaigns?"

I haven't heard back from him yet. I'll let you know when I do. But I did manage to get  Hunt on the phone. As usual, she was fantastically diplomatic, thoughtful and intelligent. She says the baby issue "didn't bother me at all."

"I think it's a reasonable question for anyone who has another job outside of their position as mayor or council member to ask if that job will take them away or somehow pull their focus off of their responsibilities," she told me on the phone just now. "That's how I interpreted that question."

And she's right, really, because women continue to be disproportionately expected to do the "job" of parenting, which many people believe reduces their ability to do good work outside the home. Ask any woman who's tried to have a career and a kid or two. The minute they're suspected of missing a soccer game, they're the bad guys. Dads, of course, are expected to stay at the office -- or in political office. For women, there is often expected to be no such thing as a divide between public and personal life.

Hunt brought up another point, though, which I think is important to consider: Dallas is a young city, full of young families. And our elected officials do not reflect that.

"There is kind of a generational divide at City Hall, and there really are not enough folks under 40 pursuing an elected office in Dallas," she said. In that demographic, said Hunt, "a lot of us are raising families" and "I certainly don't think that should exclude us and I think it's a plus."

Continuing our conversation over e-mail, Hunt added: "The citizens of Dallas deserve a mayor who can devote their full time to improving our city, and I wouldn't even be considering running for mayor if I weren't certain I could do so." 

Until we get out of an old-school mindset that wonders if moms can make good mayors, we'll continue to see the same old guard in office. If that's the case, Dallas will have a hard time transitioning into the progressive, forward-looking city it wants to be. 

You might say that I'm getting worked up over a little thing -- though I'm not the only one. And if this is the only time Hunt's family comes up when people talk about whether she's fit to be mayor, then I will be happy to say that I overreacted mightily. But I'm betting this is the start of a long conversation about her ability to be a mom and a mayor at the same time. And that conversation is fundamentally sexist, not only because it presumes that women, especially mothers, do not belong in office, but because it presumes men are incapable of running (or contributing to running) a household. I think the single dads out there take exception to that idea, and I bet two-income, split-responsibility parents do too.

What a horror to think that maybe Angela Hunt's got her family life worked out such that she and her husband can manage their home to their satisfaction by splitting responsibilities. What a con to think that Angela Hunt has been able to balance child care and public office and a marriage, which is more than we ask of most male politicians. Wouldn't want someone like that running for office, would we?

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes