Don't make the mistake that longtime Belmont politician Anne Paulsen doesn't like men in political office.
Paulsen said that she's happy to see Dan Schrafman – currently on the Belmont School Committee and running for Selectmen – and newly-elected state Senator Will Brownsberger attending the yearly winter luncheon held at the s athletic center Friday, Jan. 20.
"Men are good for somethings," she said to the laughter of the 60 in attendance, saying her husband, Fred, who helped her in her campaigns.
But Belmont's first female selectman and a state representative said she would rather see women head to the and take out nomination papers for elected office this year.
"We need a female selectmen or two, a woman state rep. and a governor, congresswomen and a senator," said Paulsen, the main speaker at the annual winter luncheon.
The yearly get together brought a wide selection of women – from high school representatives to veterans with nearly half a century of League service – to have a catered lunch (from in Cushing Square) and a chance to catch up and discuss this year's crowded election calendar.
Paulsen, who started her political career on the Belmont School Committee before graduating to Selectmen and then to State Rep., said the current political climate of reducing federal and state assistance programs is hitting women harder since they continue to be paid less and use government programs – such as social security and mass transit – at a greater level than men.
"If we want to change the debate, then women must step up to the plate and be counted," said Paulsen.
But the number of Massachusetts women on the national and state level is "abysmal": no females in Congress and 11 state senators and 28 state reps, making up 25 percent of Beacon Hill, "hardly enough to cause a revolution," she said.
Only three women Selectmen in 150 years
And in the 150 years since it was incorporate, Belmont has only elected three women to the Board of Selectmen. Currently every member of the Planning Board and Board of Appeals, selected by the Selectmen, are men, an imbalance that could be corrected with a female Selectman.
A woman "could make an input from her frame of reference and create a more robust debate," she said.
But even though women were approached to run for the open Selectmen's seat in April's town election, "there were no takers," said Paulsen.
Why don't women run for office in Belmont? Paulsen contends that there are many barriers – both practical and self made – facing women. One is time as many are the primary child care provider and most manage their household, an issue that many men don't "fret over ... but that may be because they have wives."
In Paulsen's experience, women also don't what to raise money or ask people for their vote. She laments the "old boy network" who are accustomed to giving to any number of candidates. That barrier may now be coming down as groups like Emily's List and Cambridge philanthropist Barbara Lee are providing funds and resources to female candidates.
"Many women need to be encouraged to take a risk," she said. "I know it's tough, stepping out is difficult for first-time candidates," said Paulsen, who herself would not have run but she was asked to seek a position on the school committee.
Above all, friends are key to any run, in terms of helping with child care, cooking meals and just to have fun, said Paulsen, remembering when Mary Ellen Serino held a coffee for her that she nearly missed due to the panic of "not knowing all the answers."
And women in town can help female candidates by forming something like a Belmont Elects Women Group that would recruit young women "to take the risk," said Paulsen, noting the women who served on the Wellington Building Committee and other town boards would be worthy candidates.
"But for them to take the next step means that we have to assure them there will be a support base during the campaign and after they are elected," she said.
"Our democracy demands that citizens be willing to work to make our democracy strong and working to get women to run can be our contribution to our democracy."