When Vicki Almond and Cathy A. Bevins campaigned for seats on the Baltimore County Council this fall, they got a similar reaction from voters: It's about time.
Baltimore County government has sometimes been called a boys' club, and with good reason: in the past half-century, just three women have been elected to the county council, which has been all-male for the past 16 years.
But the nickname will soon be a thing of the past. Almond and Bevins' swearing-in on Dec. 6 will mark the first time that two women serve simultaneously.
"We're going to bring a different perspective to everything," said Almond, who will represent District 2, which includes Pikesville and Reisterstown. "We have different gifts to bring to the floor and I think it's very exciting."
The women, both Democrats, say they ran not so much to represent their gender, but because they care about their communities and want to bring their experience in government to the next level. Almond, 61, a longtime community activist, was former chief of staff to state Sen. Bobby Zirkin. Bevins worked for seven years in constituent service for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. She won the east side's District 6 seat by just over 500 votes.
Bevins said she knew that when she started her campaign for the seat vacated by Joseph Bartenfelder, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive, that being a woman would make it harder for her to win the election.
"All the other elected officials were men," she said.
There hasn't been a woman on the council since Republican Berchie Manley left after one term in 1994. Almond and Bevins said they received encouragement from both men and women throughout the campaign.
"I didn't run because I felt there was a need to have a woman," said Bevins, 51. "I just thought I was qualified to sit on the council."
Almond said she ran for the position long held by Kevin B. Kamenetz, the incoming county executive, in the hopes of getting someone with a background in community activism on the council. But as the campaign wore on, "I saw that people were interested in having a woman, so I thought that it was going to help me," Almond said.
Erin Vilardi, vice president of programs and communication at the White House Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance women's leadership in politics, business and the media, said local government is an area where female representation can increase.
"We see an opportunity at the county commission level, where women leaders can direct much needed resources in building and rebuilding their communities," Vilardi said. "We also see big opportunities in rural America, where women's representation is lagging even further behind our urban sisters."
Manley, 82, said she isn't surprised that it's taken so long to get another woman on the council, because of the strength of incumbents who are not restricted by term limits and the historic difficulties of Republicans in fielding competitive candidates.
"Most women, particularly of my generation, have truly felt that it's a man's world and that women are the caregivers. They really don't have the time nor do many of them think they should be in that type of office," Manley said. "That is changing. There are women who have the courage and perseverance to move forward and do what they feel they have a calling to do."
The incoming council appears to be the most diverse in recent memory. Besides Bevins and Almond, there will be two Republicans among the seven members, and the lone black council member, Kenneth N. Oliver, is returning. A total of nine women — the highest number in recent years — ran in the September primary election.
On election night, Bevins said she and Almond embraced, ecstatic about the prospect of serving together.
"We're two females from two different parts of the county, from two different backgrounds," Bevins said, "and we're excited."
Looking ahead, Almond and Bevins said they expect to be role models for other women.
"I hope that this encourages other women to know they can do this," Bevins said. "I'm just the girl from Dundalk. I finished high school, married young and always worked. If you work hard enough and surround yourself with people who care about you, anything is possible."
Bevins' No. 1 fan? Her daughter.
"I'm more touched that I'm a role model to my daughter. She's the only girl. She is just amazed by all of this. Just knowing that she's so proud of me is enough for me."