As a political science professor and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma, Cindy Simon Rosenthal would often be questioned by students, “Why don’t you run for public office?”
The inquiry prompted reflection.
“At some level I felt that in order to encourage future generations of leaders that it was important to have an experienced person to speak in a deeper way to students, to talk to them about the rewards,” says Rosenthal. “As someone who tries to mentor young people, I know they look to see if you not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.”
Thus, in 2004, Rosenthal ran for and was elected to the Norman City Council before, three years later, becoming the first popularly elected woman mayor of the city. She was re-elected in 2010 to another three-year term, and throughout, she has tirelessly paired an acclaimed career in office with her ongoing effort to prepare the next generation of public policy makers – with a particular focus on women in the process.
“So much of my experience serving the city has enriched what I teach,” Rosenthal says. “This has been an opportunity to serve the community and make that experience come alive in the classroom. It’s not just an ‘academic’ interest in public policy – I think the best teachers often have applied knowledge.”
Still, Rosenthal says her foray into politics was an evolution. In 1985, her husband was offered a position at the University of Oklahoma, prompting the move to Norman. The Northwestern University graduate, who’d become interested in public service while a journalist, ran her own consulting business and also chose to further her education.
“I went back to school at 40,” Rosenthal says. In 1995 she earned her doctorate in political science from OU and joined the faculty.
Under her leadership in 2002, the Carl Albert Center launched what would become the Women’s Leadership Initiative, which includes multiple partnerships with women’s and youth-serving organizations. Recognized as a public policy expert, Rosenthal is co-author (with Ronald M. Peters, Jr.) of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the New American Politics. She edited Women Transforming Congress and is the author of When Women Lead, among other publishing credits.
Rosenthal has implemented her expertise throughout her career in office. Among the accomplishments she is particularly proud of are furthering the downtown arts district, Norman’s vaunted leadership within the state on fiscally smart sustainability initiatives, and the city’s financial and personnel stability during the recession.
“I’m proud of the leadership this community has taken in terms of sustainability that also makes incredible economic sense,” she says.
Just last year, Rosenthal says the city observed the ribbon cutting of a new CNG station that’s also open to the public and the opening of Norman’s second LEED-certified fire station. In August 2012 the city also passed its largest bond issue for infrastructure improvements with 63 percent of a public vote.
If a third term is in the cards – and she says she’s still considering another run – Rosenthal says she would like to focus on quality of life projects such as a new library, renovated parks and a year-round aquatic center.
“I recognize the desire in the community for these things,” she says. “Norman is a great city and a terrific place to raise our family.”