Carlton: A city council with no women? Quick, get me Pat Frank!

For the first time in forever, Tampa City Council will be all male. For perspective, we talk to politician Pat Frank, 88, and one of the reasons this is remarkable.
Hillsborough court clerk and longtime politician Pat Frank. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   (Times 2018)]
Hillsborough court clerk and longtime politician Pat Frank. [OCTAVIO JONES | (Times 2018)]
Published March 30

With time and progress, some things become unremarkable.

In a good way.

Women and minorities hold positions of power on both sides of Tampa Bay. (You're probably thinking: Well, of course they do.)

We have office-holders who are gay, too. (So?)

And Tampa is currently contemplating electing a mayor who is both out and female. And these are details, like the fact that she is a retired career cop, and also tall.

So it is notable — and also concerning — that for the first time in close to 50 years, the Tampa City Council will have no women on it.

The board's lone councilwoman is term-limited. And none of the four female candidates among the 24 who were vying for council seats made it out of the primary election and into next-month's runoff.

One of the most progressive local governments around, soon to be an all-boys club? (For the record, the Clearwater City Council is currently all male, and also all white.)

If you think it doesn't matter if women are in the mix, here I would point out that even with all that aforementioned progress, a woman makes about 80 cents right now to every dollar paid to a man.

And that it's important that voters look at their elected officials and at least have a shot at seeing someone who looks like they do.

Naturally, I call Pat Frank.

At 89, she is clerk of the circuit court for Hillsborough County. She has also been (deep breath) a Hillsborough County commissioner, a school board member, a Tampa General Hospital board member and a state Senator. You could fairly say she's one of the reasons women get to take being represented for granted.

"I think (women) shouldn’t downplay their importance in seeking office," Frank tells me. "It’s very important for us to have a balanced representation."

She would know.

Frank was the first female student at Georgetown University Law School. She ran for school board after attending meetings as a concerned parent. She says she did it because she saw inequities.

In the past, Frank has heard Senate colleagues discussing rape laws opining that maybe women shouldn't dress they way they do.

When she argued for establishing a committee on the status of women, a male legislator asked if there was one for men, too.

Yes, she said.

It's called the Florida Senate.

Like Betty Castor, Helen Gordon Davis and Sandy Freedman — to name only a few — Frank is one of the women who paved the road to make it smooth and unremarkable for the rest of us going forward.

A favorite moment for me at my local courthouse was in 2015, after Florida had joined other states where gay marriage was legal. At 85, Frank put on the dark judicial robes that had belonged to her late husband, Richard Frank, who had been an appeals court judge. Outside in the courthouse square, where church bells rang and rice was thrown, Frank performed a pretty joyous group marriage ceremony.

As clerk it was her obligation, but it was also a celebration, a moment of progress. This weekend, she's a grand marshal at the Tampa Pride parade.

Okay, now for some perspective.

At the moment, women do dominate both the Hillsborough and Pinellas county commissions.

And women currently make up nearly a quarter of the U.S. Congress, the most ever.

So maybe an all-male city council is but a blip, even if it's one we need to note.

"Women do add," Frank says.

To which I'd add: And some of them, a lot.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.

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