When presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced in March he would pick a woman as his vice president, Rozzana Verder-Aliga smiled.
The Vallejo City Councilmember’s smile is wider this week, four days after odds-on favorite Kamala Harris was chosen.
“Senator Harris represents the very best of women’s contributions to our democracy and country,” Verder-Aliga said Friday. “Her very down-to-earth personality, courage, wit and breadth of knowledge and experience make her the most qualified VP candidate. I am also very excited of the possibility of having a woman president in the future.”
Solano County Supervisor and former Vallejo Councilmember Erin Hannigan was equally thrilled.
The Oakland-born Harris “is wonderful and it’s wonderful to have her on the ticket,” said Hannigan, adding with a giddy laugh, “Can we do this election today?”
Beyond Harris representing California as a United States Senator, “she’s fierce on human rights, fierce on justice. I would not want to be her opponent,” Hannigan said. “I’m glad she’s on our side.”
Harris’ Jamaican father, Donald Harris, is an economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a breast cancer researcher born in India.
“I am thrilled that we have a woman person of color running for vice president and that she is from California,” Verder-Aliga said.
The United States is long overdue to have a woman achieve the office of the second-highest position in the country, Verder-Aliga said.
“It’s about time. Europe and Asia have elected women leaders as heads of state. America needs a woman leading this country sooner than later,” Verder-Aliga said.
The Philippines native said she’s equally inspired by what women are accomplishing in Vallejo politics.
“There’s a possibility that the Vallejo City Council will have a woman majority for the first time ever in Vallejo’s history this November election. That will be awesome,” said, Verder-Aliga, the first Filipino American elected to the Vallejo school board in 1993 and the first Filipino American elected to the council in 2013.
Verder-Aliga’s political roots run deep.
“My paternal grandfather whom I never met was vice mayor of their town in the Philippines during WWII. My dad talked very fondly of him so I was fascinated with the thought of running for office as early as 10 years old,” she said. “I stepped into leadership positions in high school and college. I was class president in high school and college organizations. I also joined political rallies in Manila during the Marcos years.”
The challenge for women running for office, Verder-Aliga continued, “is how to juggle the multiple roles and hats we wear. I am a mom, wife, career woman, who is also responsible for taking care of household duties. Of course I have a super supportive husband, Nestor, and my parents and in-laws who helped care for our kids when they were little. On top of that I was pregnant when I ran in 1993 and 1997 for school board. My friends and supporters wonder how did I do that. Well I did, and here I am still running for elected office because of my passion to help our community.”
Society has changed through the years on gender roles and expectations, Verder-Aliga added. “I am thankful to the women who have blazed the trail and led societal change, to eliminate discrimination and achieve and protect equal rights of all women and girls in all aspects of social, political and economic life. This includes first and foremost the right of women to vote and have a voice. A lot of work still needs to be done but we are on the right track.”
Hannigan agreed, remembering a void of woman elected officials when she came up. Yes, there was always her father, the late state assemblyman, but it was always “my dad and his cronies. I was surrounded by men role models, particularly when it came to politics.”
Through her father, Hannigan met Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
“I was so impressed with her and what she stood for more than anything,” Hannigan said.
Having a woman in congress is great, Hannigan said. Having a vice presidential female candidate — and, perhaps, a few months from being that proverbial heart beat away from the presidency — is inspiring.
“Having a woman on the ticket is a big deal,” Hanigan said, emphasizing that the 55-year-old Harris “balances out” the 77-year-old Biden.
“If something happened and she had to step into the presidential role, I feel extremely confident in her,” Hannigan said.
Former school board trustee Hazel Wilson said she was “elated” when she heard the VP announcement.
“I texted everyone I knew. They probably had seen it already but they let Hazel have her moment,” Wilson said.
Wilson said she’s “honored” she and Harris belong to the same sorority: Alpha Kappa Alpha, founded at Howard University in 1908.
“I think she has the leadership skills and would be ready to move to the next level,” Wilson said, calling this “a turn in the road for African-American girls. Kamala is someone they can look up to and not see a glass ceiling and know that in the United States, anyone can break that glass ceiling.”
Not every woman involved in Vallejo politics is pro-Harris.
Cornisha Williams-Bailey, one of four mayoral candidates in the Nov. 3 election to replace Bob Sampayan, called Harris “a disgrace to the Black community; dishonorable and disrespectful. That coming from a Black woman who has had close-enough dealings with her as a foster care advocate from Oakland. She is very phony and does not follow through. She used foster youth as a publicity stunt.”