If former state legislator Cathey Steinberg decides to run for Congress in Georgia's 4th district this summer, she promises it will be "one of the most interesting Congressional races in the country."
Steinberg, a state representative and senator from DeKalb County for a total of 16 years, was the featured speaker at the annual dinner of the President's Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) Feb. 15. Currently a public policy consultant, Steinberg is seriously contemplating a run for Congress this fall.
In 1992, when Steinberg lost to U.S. Rep. John Linder (R-Tucker) in her bid for the Congressional seat vacated by former U.S. Rep. Ben Jones, the 4th district was very different from what it is today. During redistricting in 1992, the 4th district was drastically redrawn to include Rockdale County and most of Gwinnett County, traditionally Republican territory that previously had not been included in the district. Steinberg lost to Linder by one-half a percentage point.
When Georgia's 11th Congressional district was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, the state legislature tried and failed to come with a new congressional map. Eventually a panel of three federal judges redrew the map, creating a new 4th district in which Democratic candidates likely will stand a much better chance of winning against Republicans. The district now includes all of DeKalb County (except the portion in the city of Atlanta) and a small wedge of southern Gwinnett County in the Norcross area.
What will make the race unusual from a racial and gender standpoint should Steinberg decide to run is the candidacy of 11th District Rep. Cynthia McKinney, a two-term Democrat from south DeKalb and the first black woman elected to Congress from Georgia. McKinney said she would run in the new 4th district after the new congressional map was released. The widely rumored candidacies of two white men, local attorney Comer Yates (whom Linder defeated in 1994) and State Sen. Ron Slotin of Atlanta, could make the mix on the Democratic side even more interesting.
"I think it will be a very competitive race if I run, and still a very interesting race if I don't run," Steinberg said.
Despite the interest surrounding Steinberg's possible candidacy, she focused her PCSW address on the progress women politicians have made in Georgia over the past couple of decades and issues of interest to women that are being dealt with in the current session of the General Assembly.
When she was elected to the State House in 1977, Steinberg was one of only 15 women out of 180 representatives. Only one of 56 state senators was a woman at the time. "I was the only Yankee Jewish woman there," Steinberg said. "After a while they started calling me Cathey Steinem and asking if I knew Bella Abzug. There was a group of about 20 of them who would vote against every single piece of legislation I introduced."
The progress women have made in Georgia politics over the past 20 years should be applauded, said Steinberg, as evidenced by pending legislation that would guarantee women the right to a minimum 48-hour hospital stay after giving birth (96 hours for cesarean births), and to fund osteoporosis testing and treatment programs.
Those gains, however, should not lull women into complacency, Steinberg cautioned. Legislators continue to chip away at sex education programs in the state that has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. "They are trying to pretend that this is a problem that can be solved without any help from the schools," she said.
"In the final analysis," Steinberg said, "we've got a long way to go, but we have come a long way, baby."