"1 will be the women's advocate and the advocate of all the people!9
Meet the Mayor
By Dixie Lee Hawkins
Campaigning to become "Houston's Next Great Mayor," Jim McConn
promised to abolish the women's advocate position at City Hall. He kept that
promise—in rather spectacular fashion.
Whether he will also keep his promise to
be "the women's advocate and the advocate of all the people" remains to be
seen. McConn says he will. Others suspect his handling of the women's advocate situation is not overly encouraging
for the future.
Dr. Nikki Van Hightower came
away from a post-election meeting with
McConn with the impression that she
would remain in his administration in
some similar capacity, particularly since
she was no longer an appointee of the
previous mayor, but a city employee
covered by civil service. Instead, on January- 6, McConn told the all-male Downtown Rotary Club that both the women's
advocate position and Dr. Nikki Van
Hightower would have no place in his ad-
ministration-an announcement McConn
had failed to make to Van Hightower.
She was not officially notified of her dismissal until serveral hours after the rest of
Houston had been informed.
McConn's public revelation came in
response to a series of questions from reporters during the luncheon panel session.
"I have apologized to Dr. Van Hightower
personally and publicly for the way that
it came about," says McConn. (Dr. Van
Hightower states that she has not received
a personal apology from McConn.) "That
was unfortunate, and I admit my error in
doing it, but I have pledged to be very
open and very honest and candid with the
media. The question was asked and I
really didn't see any way to dodge the
question. I don't want to be dodging
In an interview with Breakthrough,
McConn adds he is not interested in a
"dollar a year" volunteer for the position
or a woman "loaned" by a company that
pays her salary. Instead, the Mayor says
the women's advocate post will be "absorbed" by other positions at City Hall.
"We have two women executive
assistants and an administrative aide who
is a woman, and we're very hopeful that
during our administration, throughout
the various departments, we will have
women at decision- and policy-making
levels. I think this is a better approach to
it than a single women's advocate, and let
me try to explain why.
"Without casting any ill light on Dr.
Van Hightower, I think a single person
trying to represent all of the women of
Houston is going to fall short. I got a lot
of feedback from a lot of women that,
'Dr. Van Hightower did not represent
me.' I think that, of its natural traits, a
person in that position tends to build
their own position rather than to serve
the needs of all of the women of Houston.
"Women's needs are varied and different, depending on their own philosophies, depending on ethnic and some
times religious backgrounds. So I think
our approach to it makes more sense than
a single women's advocate."
McConn's approach appears to focus at least some attention on Executive
Assistant Marsha Wayne, who holds a
Master of Business Administration from
Harvard and works for McConn's administration at a dollar a year. Wayne describes herself as a "liaison" with all women's groups and women in general, "not
an advocate so much, but a sounding
board." Wayne says part of her job is
handling calls and requests that used to
go to Van Hightower and briefing the
Mayor on requests and issues involving
Despite controversy over the women's advocate, McConn thinks he's been
treated "very fairly" by women's groups,
particularly feminists. "We've had some
very serious, but I think sincere, objections to the Dr. Van Hightower matter,
but that was expected. You know, as long
as people are expressing their sincere belief, they have every right to do that, and
I think that they've been very fair about
it. I think that they have put out a challenge to Mayor McConn to 'Let's see if
you're going to handle the women's problems of this city without a women's advocate.' I think we can."
Q. How do you intend to do this,
A. With the inclusion of women at
high positions in city government who
can answer all of the women's problems,
not just the feminist' problems-because
if you were to take the city of Houston
and say the population is divided 50-50
male and female, I suspect that among
the females, it might be 50 percent feminist and 50 percent others. I don't want
this office devoting all of its attention to
half of the women. I don't think that's
Q. Did it seem to you, then, that
the women's advocate position had become a feminist position?
A. Yes, yes.
Q. Was it controversial in symbolism, as opposed to substance?
A. Yes, yes it was, in my opinion,
and that's the reason it no longer exists. I
don't think, for example, that a common,
ordinary housewife who eiects to be a
common ordinary housewife, and likes
her position as a common, ordinary
housewife, was at all represented by the
women's advocate. I think she can be
with our approach to it.
Q. And the feminists?
A. I think they can be, too. We
don't intend to exclude feminists. They
have their problems, and we want to hear
what their problems are and try to address ourselves to them, but not to the
exclusion of that other fifty percent, or
whatever that percent is, of people who
are not or do not want to be a member
of the feminist movement, and there're a
lot of women like that-a lot of them.
Continued on page 20
HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH February 1978 Page 1