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NewsTribune photo/Chris Yucus Engineer Larry Good (from left) discusses infrastructure issues during a recent committee meeting with Spring Valley aldermen Dan McFadden and Chuck Hansen while Deb Baltikauski (background) listens. Baltikauski is the likely candidate to fill a seat left vacant by the death of first-term alderman Mark Actis. If appointed, she will be the first woman to serve on Spring Valley’s council in more than a decade.
The 'perspective of a lady'
At a recent Spring Valley City Council meeting, mayor Walt Marini introduced Deb Baltikauski and told members of the council he thought the public body could use the “perspective of a lady.” Our officials weigh in on what that means.
Znaniecki: “I think women bring kind of a different picture to things, because we’re such emotional creatures, but I think we’re all pretty level-headed.”
“When I ran (for the first term) and I was out walking the streets… my motto was, ‘It’s time for a woman on the board.’”
Pressed to elaborate, she added: “Men tend to react quickly — ‘This is how it is.’ Women mull it over more… think long-term about what the effect might be. I tend to think it through, but maybe that’s just me, also. I don’t know.”
Alvarado: “I tend to notice things that need to be just cleaned up, or that we had to repair — I guess I always want the downtown area to look beautiful. I’m very much into that and also…not spending too much money.”
It’s been 13 years since a woman served on Spring Valley’s city council. That may be about to change. With a vacancy in the 3rd Ward, Mayor Walt Marini has told the council he intends to appoint resident Deb Baltikauski to the table.
Though women have run for the council in recent years, it’s remained an all-male board.
That’s not atypical for the area: There are no women currently serving on Ottawa’s, La Salle’s, Oglesby’s, Princeton’s or Mendota’s councils, for example.
Former Spring Valley mayor Jim Narczewski recalled working with three women on the council during his 24 years, including two who served by appointment. When he was first elected as mayor, he appointed Becky Coutts to complete two years of his term as alderman, 1985-1987. In 1999, in the wake of the death of alderman Roy Smith, Narczewski appointed Roy’s widow, Diane Smith, to complete his term.
In 1997, Pam Argubright ran for an won a seat on the council. She was credited for her influence in bringing the Wal-Mart Distribution Center to the city. She did not seek re-election in 2001.
“In all fairness, they have a different perspective,” Narczewski said. “I felt the ladies we had thought about some things we didn’t… They were cool, calm and collected, as far as I was concerned.”
On the national level, women are represented more in American politics than ever before. And though the current total of 99 female members of Congress is a record high, women remain a minority among the 535 members in the House and Senate.
In the Illinois Valley area, it’s still rare that women serve in local offices such as city councils. Three such officials shared their thoughts on the gender divide.
* Arratta Znaniecki of Ottawa has served on La Salle County Board since 2006, when she was the only woman serving on the board, and is the first female to serve as finance committee chairman.
“That’s a challenge that I take seriously,” she said.
She is currently the longest-serving of the six female county board members.
Q:What was the reaction when you arrived?
A: Znaniecki said she found her fellow board members were helpful as she got to know her way around the building and county procedures.
“They treated me very well,” Znaniecki said.
There was one benefit to being the only women on the board: “I had the ladies bathroom all to myself,” she said, laughing.
Q: Does gender seem to be an issue? No.
Q: Have you noticed any changes in attitude since you started serving?
“It was a little contentious, but over the years, it’s just changed and mellowed out,” Znaniecki said.
Party politics rather than gender politics were the source of the contention, she explained. Now, Democrats and Republicans work together better.
“We don’t always agree but… we respect each other enough that we listen,” Znaniecki said.
* Utica mayor Gloria Alvarado was appointed to her position after the death of Fred Esmond. She was chosen in a unanimous vote by the village board. At the time, Alvarado was the most senior village trustee.
Q: What was the reaction when you arrived?
Alvarado joined Mary Pawlak, who served a total of 24 years on the board. “I don’t think it was any different for me than it was for anyone else,” Alvarado said, of joining the board.
The transition to mayor came with a learning curve, she said, but Alvarado didn’t attribute that to gender bias.
“Fred Esmond was mayor for such a long time and I think he was very calm and was a strong leader,” she said. “It’s a little harder for me.”
She relies on the help of village officials and employees who know the ropes and respond well to constituents’ troubles.
“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” Alvarado said.
Q: Does gender seem to be an issue? No.
Q: Have you noticed any changes in attitude since you started serving? No.