As Mayor Nirenberg orders flags in San Antonio lowered to half staff in honor of the late Lila Cockrell, who died Thursday at the age of 97, an expert on women in politics says her influence and legacy runs far deeper than most of us realize, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Dr. Sharon Navarro, a political science professor at UTSA, says you have to realize that when Cockrell was elected to San Antonio City Council in the 1960s, there were essentially no women in politics at any level.
"She is a powerhouse, she was a trailblazer, she was the second female in the United States to be elected mayor of a major urban city, and the first female in Texas," she said.
Navarro calls Cockrell a 'uniquely significant figure.'
She was not only the first woman to be elected mayor of a major Texas city, she was also the first woman to head the Texas Municipal League, and she was a role model for women at a time when women were just begining to enter not just the work force, but the political arena, in the 1970s.
Its an interesting commentary on the changing status of women during that period. When she was on City Council in the 1960s, her name appears on plaques from the period which were placed on city projects, like the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center as 'Mrs. Sid Cockrell.' By her second term as mayor in the late 1980s, she is referred to as 'Lila Cockrell.'
"Not only her leadership role in politics, but her economic role, but the trailblazing that she has done for women," Navarro cite as Cockrell's legacy.
Former Mayor Henry Cisneros, who both followed and preceded Cockrell's two stints as mayor, said she deserves the credit for San Antonio's economic renaissance of the past forty years, crediting her, for example, with guiding the creation of Valero Energy out of the Lavaca Gas lawsuit of the 1970s. He says Cockrell 'spanned the change from the old to the new San Antonio.'
Navarro says Cockrell is largely to credit for the fact that San Antonio, with a majority minority population even then, has never suffered the ethnic tensions which have burst into violence in many cities over the past several decades.
"Talk about the time frame when she wa sleading, that was back in the seventies, when legislation barely allowed minorities to sit at the table and make decisions."
Cisneros says Cockrell's adroit handling of the switch to single member City Council districts helped empower Latino groups, which were then threatening civil disobedience through groups like La Raza.