A female constituent on a municipality’s legislative council.
An alderwoman—or should they be male, alderman—is a high-ranking member within a municipality responsible for representing the residents who voted them in. Sometimes referred to as a councilor or council member depending on the municipality, an alderwoman is a municipality’s legislative council member. This democratic body votes on laws to be passed within a city, county, or township. The original term for alderwoman, ealdorman, is Old English for “elder or older man” and was traditionally used to reference dignified government officials in Anglo-Saxon England. We once distinguished councilors from aldermen by how they came to power (citizens chose the councilors while the councilors chose the aldermen), but this is no longer the case.
An alderwoman’s legislative interests are not only to appease her voters but also to enact meaningful change in a community she is a resident of. Such changes include the enaction of new laws, the commencing of new developments, and support for local-level community projects. Most cities and townships are divided into wards, and these wards comprise an alderwoman’s jurisdiction. An alderwoman also acts to communicate and negotiate with representatives in the higher levels of government.
Although any member of a city or township can run for the position, oftentimes, an alderwoman will be a part-time city employee, who, once elected, must be available at all hours of the day but with no set number of hours. To avoid conflicts of interest, an alderwoman will usually have to go through an electoral commission to ensure their legislative interests are honest. Once approved, an alderwoman can make between $10,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on the size of the municipality.
Real-World Example of Alderwoman
The role and title of an alderwoman does experience some variation between countries, however. Here is a list of some notable examples:
- Canada: The gender-neutral titles “councilor” and “alderperson” are used in most municipalities throughout the country.
- Netherlands: Instead of a municipal council, an alderman or alderwoman is under the direction of a municipal executive, a board that includes the mayor and other alderpersons.
- South Africa: The title of alderman or alderwoman is reserved for senior councilors to distinguish their long history of service from the other councilors.
- Australia: Though common until 1994, many local and regional governments have discontinued the title altogether in favor of “mayor” or “councilor.”
Early in 2021, Robin Rue Simmons was the alderwoman responsible for leading the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, to pay up to 16 eligible Black households $25,000 in reparation for systemic racism. With up to $400,000 in reparation money, the historic 8-1 vote marked Evanston as the first city in the United States to pay reparations. Alderwoman Cicely Fleming cast the single opposing vote, though, citing how the money could only be used on housing—arguing against the “paternalistic model of ‘we know what’s best for you.’” According to CBS News, Fleming emphasized the importance of the reparations cash component, saying, “We have to respect Black people’s ability to manage their own funds.”