Women’s History Month Spotlight – Danene Sorace

Women’s History Month originated as a national celebration in 1981 when the United States Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which requested and permitted the President to proclaim the week of March 7th, 1982 as “Women’s History Week”.  After being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project the designation of March as “Women’s History Month”, this designation was accomplished through the passing of Pub. L. 100-9.

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day which is recognized each year on March 8th and celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, we are spotlighting Mayor Danene Sorace of the City of Lancaster.

Danene Sorace was elected to the position of Mayor in November 2017 and was sworn in on January 3, 2018.  She is the second women to hold the office in the 202-year history of the city, the first being Mayor Janice Stork who held the office for two terms from 1990 until 1998. Her passions and goals for her time in office overlap, the things that she cares most deeply about are family and community life, social and economic justice, education and opportunity, and optimism about the future – especially the future of Lancaster City.

Prior to her election to the position of Mayor, she was a member of the Lancaster City Council, and chaired the Finance Committee, and served on the committees for Public Works, and Economic Development and Neighborhood Revitalization.

Danene is a first-generation college graduate, she holds a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology from Albright College, and a master’s in public policy with a concentration in health care policy from Rutgers University.

WHF-PA recently interviewed Danene to learn more about her career path and the advice that she would share with other women interested in government.

What motivated you to run for the position of mayor, and what challenges did you face during your first year in office?

My motivation to run for office was two-fold:  1) to build on the success of the Gray administration and all that was accomplished over the previous 12 years; and 2) to build a stronger and more equitable Lancaster block by block, by focusing on Strong Neighborhoods, Safe Streets, Secure Incomes and Sound Government.

I also believe that we can do politics differently at the local level. We can have real discourse without demeaning each other. We can solve problems and improve the lives of our residents. We can be responsible stewards of our children’s futures. I believe we are doing these things — working together as a team to ensure that our local government is operating with integrity and respect to deliver quality services that our community relies on every day.

This year marks my third year in office.  There have been a lot of challenges!  The fire-bombing of City Hall, officer suicide, police use of force were a few that stand out from year one.  While all of these were very painful, out of these experiences we were able to make significant, systemic changes to address housing and police related issues.

What advice would you give to other women who are interested in running for government office?

Don’t count yourself out before you even begin!  Research has shown that women often don’t move from thinking about running for office to preparing to run because they believe they are not qualified.  This is simply not true in many cases.

Get involved.  It is actually pretty simple to get involved in your local political party and additional hands are always welcomed.  Check it out!  Get to know the work and the people.  Ask questions.  Show up.

What strengths do you bring to the office, and what qualities do you admire in other female leaders?

Listening is one of the strengths I bring to the office. Being heard and working to find a path forward is one of the things that I strive to do.

Fortunately, there are a lot more women leading organizations here in Lancaster!  Think about it – Jan Bergan at Lancaster General Health/Penn Medicine, the County’s largest employer, Dana Hanchin at HDC Mid-Atlantic, Barb Wilson at Lancaster City Housing Authority, Lisa Riggs at Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, Vanessa Philbert at Community Action Partnership, Dr. Barbara Altmann at Franklin & Marshall, and Damaris Rau at the School District of Lancaster – to name a few!  It is an exciting time to be among this cohort of women leaders and I’m inspired by the work they do every day recognizing that it can be quite daunting.

What in your life has brought or given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?

Being a mom and a mayor are two things that have brought me a kind of satisfaction that I couldn’t have anticipated.  The opportunity to be a parent and to love someone else so utterly and completely has been a complete joy!  Being a mayor has challenged me, provided me opportunities to learn and grow professionally.  I am grateful that I took the risk, though it has had its moments.  And I don’t think I would have done anything differently –  I try not to dwell on the past. It is more important to be reflective, learn from mistakes, and work to be better.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of women?

I think women will continue to struggle with the “invisible work” of home while also juggling a career.  As we continue to integrate our home and work life, we shouldn’t have to be fighting for equitable pay and supports like child care.

Women’s History Month celebrates the scientific, political, economic and social achievements of women. In your experience as a successful woman, what is the significance of having a month dedicated to recognizing these achievements?

My mom was one of four children.  Unlike her brothers who had the option of going to college, she was told that there was no point in her getting a degree since she would be getting her M.R.S.  Recognizing the achievements for women, especially women of color, is an opportunity to honor the women who came before us, and to highlight and plan for the changes that still need to be.

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