For women, blacks -- some notable losses, minor wins
Washington — For women and blacks, the 1982 elections brought decidedly mixed results.
When the new Congress opens next year, it will have only one, perhaps two, more women members than it does now. For all of the attention focused on women in politics recently, they will still be holding only about 4 percent of congressional seats, approximately the number they held two decades ago.
Blacks added three more seats to increase their number to 21, said to be an all-time high. The newcomers won in Missouri, New York, and Indiana, all states that have lost seats in this year's redistricting.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), labeled the increase ''insignificant.'' But she told the Monitor that she had not been surprised by the outcome. ''We knew that from the beginning,'' she said, because only 6 percent of the candidates were women.
For the most part, women now in the House held on to their jobs, but few challengers won their races. Two of Capitol Hill's best-known women will not return next year: Rep. Margaret M. Heckler (R) of Massachusetts, the senior woman on Capitol Hill, and the colorful Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R) of New Jersey.
Women made no gains in the Senate, despite last-minute rumblings that Harriett Woods, a Democrat, might unseat Sen. John C. Danforth (R) of Missouri.
The lesson, according to NOW's Mrs. Smeal, is that ''we've just got to recruit more women who are pro women's rights'' to run for office. ''We've just got to get out of those token numbers.''
Women's-rights groups can take some comfort from the state Legislature races in Florida, however. When that state's Senate rejected the Equal Rights Amendment last summer, ERA supporters warned they would ''remember in November.''
They have made good on the threat. A record 20 women candidates filed for the Florida senate, and they more than doubled their numbers in that body from 4 to 9 of the 40 members. All but one of the women senators favor the ERA.
Among minor victories claimed by NOW: defeats for candidates in North Carolina backed by that state's Sen. Jesse Helms (R), leader of the far-right forces in the Senate. And the elections have reportedly delivered some 20 new members of Congress friendly to women's rights.
Election day gave no clear signal on the overall power of the women's vote. Pollsters had found that women, more than men, were leaning toward the Democrats and away from President Reagan. The so-called ''gender gap'' turned out to be no guarantee of victory for Democrats, however.
In the Michigan and Texas governor races, where the Republicans had offended many women voters with their opposition to women's rights, the female vote appears to have helped elect Democrats. But in Florida, state Sen. Tom Lewis (R) , far from being punished for his opposition to the ERA, has won a seat in Congress.
For black candidates, Nov. 2 brought a major disappointment with the loss of Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles, who had at one time been favored to become California's and the nation's first elected black governor. In another defeat, Mississippi turned back Robert G. Clark, a Democrat, seeking to be that state's first black Congress member in more than a century.
But there was good news, too, in congressional elections - as well as in preliminary reports of high turnout among black voters.
Althea T. L. Simmons, Washington director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the most positive sign is that ''blacks turned out in record numbers.'' Blacks gave the victory margin in a number of races, she said. ''I think Mr. (George) Wallace could not have won without the black vote,'' she said of the Alabama governor-elect.
Black voter turnout was up ''substantially'' in the South and in many urban areas of the North, says Thomas E. Cavanagh, political analyst for the Joint Center for Political Studies, Inc., in Washington.
On policy issues, the new Congress will be more sympathetic toward civil rights, said Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. ''The vocal advocates (of civil rights) have been reelected.''