A Year of the Woman, just east of NYC?

Check out episode 2 of
Check out episode 2 of “The Bellwether,” a podcast on two crucial midterm contests on LI. Photo Credit: NYPD

235. That’s the record number of women who won nominations from their parties to run for Congress, according to the Center for American Women and Politics out of Rutgers University.

One of those women was Liuba Grechen Shirley. She’s a Long Island Democratic candidate who is one of the subjects of our new podcast “The Bellwether,” which follows two crucial midterm contests just a LIRR ride away from NYC. (Subscribe on iTunes! Listen to episode two online!)

Grechen Shirley is running in the wake of the #MeToo movement and Hillary Clinton’s failure to become the country’s first female president. Reproductive rights and childcare are two issues at the center of her campaign. Meanwhile, her opponent, 13-term GOP incumbent Rep. Peter King has voted against abortion rights and to defund Planned Parenthood.

It’s a contrast that has become even starker since Brett Kavanaugh, accused of sexual assault, was nominated for and ultimately ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court. King thought Kavanaugh should be confirmed and at one point called female anti-Kavanaugh protesters “hysterical.”

Grechen Shirley put it this way in a September campaign event (before Kavanaugh’s confirmation) that riled up a Bay Shore crowd: “I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough of old men telling me what to do with my body, of calling us hysterical, of being told that I’m too emotional and too principled because god damnit, and pardon my French, we should be emotional and we should be fighting back.”

A bellwether issue

A key question this midterm season is which direction will suburban, highly educated women sway, given that some polling shows them leaning Democrat in the Kavanaugh era.

Grechen Shirley’s district is a test case on this front–it’s majority white, with mean household income over $120,000, according to census data.

And her campaign seems to be doing its best to reach and energize those voters, perhaps her best hope to overcome a comfortable incumbent who is seen as a practical conservative on some New York-specific issues.

Grechen Shirley has sent campaign literature addressing Roe v. Wade and inequality in the workplace. And she is very visibly running as a working mom, juggling her two young kids while running a full-time campaign. That includes her successful attempt to get the Federal Election Commission to allow her to use campaign funds for childcare — sort of a no-brainer if you want people without independent wealth to be able to run for office. Candidates aren’t exactly earning money for household upkeep on the side. Grechen Shirley’s successful FEC petitioning got her a huge amount of national press attention, maybe the biggest break of her campaign so far.

Year of the Woman?

Despite his anti-abortion record, King has had no problem defeating female candidates in the past, like when he received more than twice as many votes as lightly-funded candidate Patricia Maher in 2014.

But Grechen Shirley is hoping that we’re on the verge of another Year of the Woman, the nickname for the relative wave of women elected to Congress in 1992 after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. Beyond the Kavanaugh issue, Grechen Shirley is one of the women who participated in the hundreds-of-thousands strong Women’s March the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and then was moved to activism. She founded an Indivisible-style group that was soon clashing with King. Not long after that, like many other women around the country this year, she moved from resistance to candidacy to try to increase the ratio of women in Congress, which currently stands at 20 percent.

Listen in for more on this subject and Grechen Shirley on the campaign trail here. And stay tuned for our next episode on the long and high-profile career of King, spanning the Irish peace process and hearings about Muslim radicalization.