AS WE WATCHED President Obama raise his hand on the Bible and be sworn in for his second term as president - and as the first person who broke the racial barrier to the White House - we couldn't help wondering whether we'd see a woman raising her hand to the Bible in four years.

There is no question that women are qualified and capable of leading a country - hello, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, joined by 15 other women elected to heads of state. In fact the only question is why this country lags so far behind other more enlightened places - like Lithuania, Kosovo, Slovakia and Liberia.

Of course, the country could be considered progressive when you compare it to the small numbers of elected women at the state and the city levels.

Political leadership is a complicated cocktail, and this weekend's death of Happy Fernandez made us ponder this complicated subject anew. Fernandez was the first - and the last - serious female candidate for the mayor's office. Pioneers blaze the trail for those behind them. But who followed Fernandez in her bid for the highest city office? In the nearly 15 years since Fernandez ran for mayor, no one.

There is chatter about potential female contenders for the next mayoral election. But where's the action? This is a city full of highly accomplished women. Why don't more go after the big jobs, like mayor or governor?

It's true Fernandez was unusually gifted. She didn't "have a career." She had six. She started life after Wellesley College as a middle-school teacher, then raised three boys, founded and directed the Parents Union for Public Schools, became a Temple professor, was elected to City Council, and then became president of Moore College of Art.

Her turn to politics was, according to her husband, Dick, fueled by her anger that City Hall was not watching out for city children. Despite the fact hat she worked around many men (and beat many of them on the tennis court), she was always mindful of the fact that she was a woman - and reminded of that by the many comments about her clothing.

She felt politics treated women different from men. When she hired the out-of-prison Buddy Cianfrani to help her win the City Council election, liberals were shocked. She felt they would not have blinked had she been a man.

Though fundraising is often harder for women than it is for men because most women don't have an old-boys network to tap, her friend Teri Simon said Happy developed her own networks and was unafraid to ask people for money.

Fernandez leaves behind a rich legacy even absent her entry into the political fray, but we think her passing is an opportunity for women in this city to get serious about electing a female mayor. The city's leaders - male and female - should come together, and first ask what it is about politics here that keeps many women at bay. Then change what's necessary to make it happen.

Barack Obama's story of an outsider fighting to change an entrenched system gets mixed reviews. But change is hard, and the heroic act is stepping up to take it on.

The women of this city know this. Now they should act.