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Setting records: Mayor Kapszukiewicz has most female staff in Toledo's history

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    Staff of Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz from left: Michelle Schultz, administrative assistant; Leslie Albanese, mayor's assistant; Abby Arnold, deputy chief of staff; chief of staff Katy Crosby; Gretchen DeBacker, legislative director; Marquita Chong, administrative assistant; Karen Poore, deputy chief of staff; Lucy Frank, mayor's assistant; and Angela Lucas, mayor's assistant.

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    Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz with his chief of staff Katy Crosby.

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    Gretchen DeBacker, legislative director for the City of Toledo, and Abby Arnold, deputy chief of staff.

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    Angela Lucas, City of Toledo mayor's assistant.

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    City of Toledo deputy chief of staff, Karen Poore.

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Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz has said time and again he set out to hire smart, talented, optimistic professionals, but he did not anticipate setting a Toledo record when he brought in nine women and one man to work with him on the 22nd floor of One Government Center.

The Kapszukiewicz administration has the most female staff in the history of Toledo’s mayor’s office, and it’s a responsibility the women don’t take lightly.

“That puts the pressure on to be successful so that we can show we’re not just the most female, but we’re also going to be the most competent and get the most done,” said Abby Arnold, 37, who serves as one of two deputy chiefs of staff.

Four of the city’s most important posts are held by women, and their assistants are women, too.

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Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz with his chief of staff Katy Crosby.

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Mr. Kapszukiewicz selected Katy Crosby, 40, as the new chief of staff last month, and Karen Poore, 50, serves as the other deputy chief of staff. They, along with Mrs. Arnold, oversee the day-to-day operations of the city. Legislative Director Gretchen DeBacker, 47, works to craft long-term policies and initiatives.

"I’m excited for these women to be able to demonstrate that they can do it,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. “I know they can do it, and I’m excited to see them prove to the community and to an overwhelmingly male power structure that they can do it. And they don’t have to apologize, and they don’t have to take a back seat to anyone.”

Mrs. Arnold worked the last four years as commissioner of utilities administration in the city’s public utilities department, and before that she served as chief of staff and director of real estate in the Lucas County Auditor’s Office. Auditor Anita Lopez is the first woman in Lucas County to hold that role, and Mrs. Arnold said it wasn’t until she began working for the city that she realized most of the people involved in key decisions were men.

WATCH: The Blade speaks with Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and members of his majority-female staff

She said she is happy to be part of a nearly all-female team working with the mayor.

“When I came to the city and started looking around the table and noticing that it was mostly all males, I started thinking, ‘Oh, wow,’” she said. “It’s exciting to see that shift here in the city of Toledo from what it was just four years ago when I started at the city.”

The mayor’s office hasn’t been off-limits to women prior to this administration. Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s predecessor, Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson, was the second woman to hold the elected position. Donna Owens, who served as mayor from 1983-1989, was the first. Past administrations have also had women on staff, though not as many and not in as many key positions.

Ms. DeBacker said the city of Toledo in the past has been criticized as a place where women “get in but there’s no way to get up.” In other words, women are offered jobs within the city, but it’s tough to get promoted. She is hopeful that having so many women working alongside the mayor will naturally improve opportunities for women to climb the ranks in city government.

“The advancement of women in corporate, in government, in nonprofit, everywhere, still needs to be addressed,” she said. “The percentages are not there.”

She cited a 2017 study of women in the workplace conducted by Sheryl Sandberg’s organization LeanIn.Org and management consultants McKinsey & Company that found only 19 percent of chief executives are women, though women comprise 46 percent of entry-level positions.

Ms. Crosby said it’s important for women who make it into management positions to mentor other women who aspire to advance their careers. Everyone reaches times in their careers where they feel like they’ve hit a ceiling, and they need someone to help them navigate, she said.

She comes to Toledo from Dayton, where she worked 12 years with the city’s Human Relations Council. Dayton has a female mayor, Nan Whaley, who works in the city commission office with a staff of eight, five of whom are women. Ms. Crosby said Mayor Whaley encouraged her to pursue the chief of staff position in the Kapszukiewicz administration, and she hopes to pass that encouragement along.

"You don’t walk into the door thinking, ‘I’m a woman.’ You know that you’re competent. You know what you bring to the table,” Ms. Crosby said. “But at the same time I do find myself at times looking around counting who else is at the table, which makes you more aware about making sure there are opportunities for other women.”

Several of the mayor’s staff members said women are often pitted against each other or seen as too sensitive to handle high-stress jobs. The group of nine women on the 22nd floor want citizens and other city employees to know they are sensitive and nurturing, but they’re also competent and approachable.

"I think that women can help lift up and promote and support other women, because society won’t do that for us,” said Leslie Albanese, 28, one of several mayor’s assistants working at One Government Center. “I don’t doubt my abilities, the problem is that other people do.”

Communications Director Ignazio Messina, 41, is the lone male on Mr. Kapszukiewicz’s staff. He said he thinks it’s great there are so many women working in the mayor’s office, especially at a time where nationally more women are running for elected offices and there’s a renewed focus on women’s rights.

“I have a 10-year-old daughter, and I am very pleased that there is no shortage of strong, smart, successful women in the office who my daughter can look up to,” Mr. Messina said. 

Toledo isn’t the only Ohio city making strides toward promoting women. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley has a staff of seven, all of whom are women.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther’s staff is split down the middle, with 11 women and 11 men working in his office. The city of Cleveland did not provide its staffing data by Monday evening.

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Angela Lucas, City of Toledo mayor's assistant.

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Angela Lucas, Mayor Kapszukiewicz’s administrative assistant, said the women in the mayor’s office communicate well, support each other, and mentor each other. Everyone, no matter their title, pitches in to get the work done, she said.

“I don’t think we’d have that same rapport and same morale if this were all men here and maybe one woman,” Mrs. Lucas said. “It’s a great blessing to work with so many fantastic women.”

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said he wants to reach a point where hiring women for key positions such as chief of staff, deputy chiefs of staff, and legislative director don’t make headlines because it is no longer unusual.

The women who work for him agree.

“I think it will be interesting to see, with a largely female leadership team, how that translates out in the community,” Ms. Crosby said. “When you see three women that are responsible for what happens in the city, you’re forced to think about them as your colleague or as somebody in a leadership role that you need to work with and partner with in a serious way.”

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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