“What does a woman know about roads?”
That was one of the the questions former Monroe County Commissioner Charlotte Zietlow heard when she ran against a man for the county executive office in 1980.
She was a Democrat running against a three-term Republican incumbent at a time when the local GOP, and men, controlled county government.
Despite the odds, Zietlow beat Bill Hanna, “a man as synonymous with Monroe County government as the courthouse dome,” according to an H-T story from back then, to become the first local woman to serve as a county commissioner.
“People were astonished that I won,” Zietlow said. “I was one of them; 1980 did not look like a good year for a woman or a Democrat to run.”
Even while celebrating her victory on election night, Zietlow heard people saying she had some nerve as a woman to run for the county commissioner office.
“It took the shine off the moment a bit,” she said.
Zietlow was no stranger to local politics and was prepared for her new role. Prior to being a county commissioner, she had served on Bloomington’s city council and was known throughout the community for her volunteering efforts.
Despite having some local government experience, things were different when she stepped into the commissioner role. Zietlow felt pressure to do a good job, the best, so other women would be considered serious prospects for elected office in the future.
She said getting elected county commissioner “became the most important thing I have ever done.”
Other women did follow, and Monroe County has had seven women serve as county commissioners. The list includes Iris Kiesling, Joyce Poling and Mary Forester-Kinzer.
Today, all three commissioners — Julie Thomas, Amanda Barge and Lee Jones — are women, a statewide first. Jones defeated incumbent Patrick Stoffers, who had served three terms, in the primary, and Republican challenger Larry Barker in November to join Barge and Thomas.