Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Retiring U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was feted Monday night at a cocktail party cum fundraising dinner hosted by the Women’s Campaign Fund, a bipartisan political action committee that supports pro-choice female candidates.
Called a pioneer on Capitol Hill and a champion for a host of women’s issues, Snowe was honored for her lifetime’s achievement, even as many see her departure as evidence of the ongoing erosion of moderate women voices left in the Republican party.
In most ways it was a typical New York cocktail party: Glasses clinked, the well-dressed shuffled through a crammed space -- in this case the awkward L-shaped photo gallery at Christie’s auction house. Cheeks were kissed, hands shook and conversation centered around the so-called Republican War on Women.
Citing the recent spate of legislation from personhood amendments to mandatory ultrasounds, WCF president Sam Bennett tried to bring attention to the event’s purpose: Raising money for pro-choice women candidates on both sides of the aisle, “to push back on the frat house lunacy of a male-dominated American political system.” But it was hard to be heard over the din, forcing Bennett to repeatedly shush attendees.
The crowd settled down a bit for Mayor Bloomberg who introduced Sen. Snowe, praising her bipartisanship, efforts to work across the aisle, and focus on “the people’s business.”
“In fact if Congress spent more time following her example and less time in attacks on women’s health, it would have a lot more respect and our nation would be a lot better off,” said Bloomberg.
He was joined by his girlfriend, Diana Taylor, one of the only other identifiable Republican women in the room. Taylor also criticized the recent debate over women’s bodies, “I thought that we were over that discussion as to whether or not family planning was a good thing.”
Snowe said it was refreshing to be in New York surrounded by an array of thoughtful, forward-looking, reasonable-minded people, “not that Washington isn’t brimming with such individuals these days,” she joked.
Staying with a theme of bipartisanship, she said it was vital for women to be elected from both sides of the aisle. When she arrived in the House in 1979, before she was a Senator, Snowe started in the same class as the late Geraldine Ferraro. At that time, she said, “there were too few women, and too many issues unaddressed that affected women to be partisan about the agenda.”
She said that was the idea that drove the Congresswoman’s caucus on women’s issues, which she eventually co-chaired for more than 10 years, and credits with the passage of legislation that mattered to women.
“There was a time in America where child-support enforcement was a woman’s problem,” said Snowe, continuing with a list of women’s issues from health care to pension protection that she and her colleagues successfully changed.
Speaking about the debate over contraceptive coverage, Snowe called it surprising, saying it felt like a retro debate that took place in the 1950’s.
“It’s sort-of back to the future, isn’t it, that in the 21st century that we would be revisiting this issue,” said Snowe, who offered praise for the event’s other honoree.
“Sandra Fluke should have been commended and not condemned for her courage in expressing her own views and beliefs before members of Congress,” said Snowe, referring to the Georgetown Law student’s testimony in support of birth control access that made her a lighting rod for Rush Limbaugh.
Snowe said the latest round of attacks should serve as a call to arms for all women candidates and their supporters and as she stepped away from the mic, she offered her advice, “Keep the fight up.”