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On election night, Mercer County and the 12th District made history as we elected the first African American woman from New Jersey to Congress and the first woman in a decade.

And after the dust settled across the country, 100 women were elected to Congress – the most ever. These great milestone should be applauded but — let’s face it — while 51% of the population are women, we hold fewer than a quarter of the seats in Congress. That’s shameful. So what do we do?

First off, we need to encourage women to keep running for office. And we should applaud those who ran but came up short because those women should be proud of the work they did and because we need to encourage them to keep trying.

Representation isn’t easy. It took many battles to win the right to vote and the road to adequate representation is even longer. I ran three times for my nomination as a council candidate before I won. Each time, I learned something. Each time, my supporters grew in strength and number. But it’s not easy to keep getting up, so we need to support each other.

Locally, we have a great opportunity. We have replaced the strong progressive voice of Rush Holt with another strong progressive voice in Bonnie Watson Coleman. Now we will have a chance to fill the Assembly seat with another great leader. The good news is that Mercer County has a deep bench of young, energetic leaders who could take up the challenge. I’m not going to take space in this column to name potential individuals or discuss the pros and cons of particular candidates, but I do think that it’s important that we, in Mercer, look at the large talent pool we have and make sure that we are representing our constituencies well.

In considering this pool, there is the issue near and dear to my heart: Getting more women elected to office. Losing a female seat in the statehouse is not optimal. Mercer County is home to lots of young families, and we all know that young mothers in particular face unique challenges when it comes to running for office or even work/life balance in general. Having a representative who understands that and can work to address those disparities would be welcome.

But it’s not about gender alone. As the capital county, we need to find ways to encourage the revitalization of Trenton and figure out how we can support and grow the region at the same time. New Jersey and the 15th District could both benefit from an injection of new ideas. Our towns need real solutions and new ideas can only add to the debate.

I’m excited for the possibilities for Mercer and the 15th district. We pride ourselves on the openness of our convention process so this should be a time when we truly debate new ideas and look at how we can truly represent the diversity of our county and our district.

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Cathleen Lewis
Cathleen, the Mayor of Lawrence Township & a full-time Public Affairs professional, counts her best job as being Mommy to Abigail (3 years) and Bridget (6 months ). A New Yorker originally, but Boston raised, Cathleen enjoys the challenge of raising the girls in a mixed household with her Yankee-fan husband Paul. She hopes to make up for the confusion by encouraging the family’s love of Rutgers football. She dreams of sharing her love of beaches, margaritas, music and adventure but is happy to squeeze in a family walk with the dog and a back yard BBQ these days. Formerly an avid reader and writer before work, life and children; Cathleen hopes she hasn’t lost her ability to capture thoughts through the written word but often can’t remember where the grocery list is.

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