Story at a glance

  • The New York City mayoral primary is coming up on June 22.
  • Amongst those running are several women, many of whom have denounced governor Andrew Cuomo following several sexual harassment allegations made against him.
  • Unlike other large cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago, New York City has never had a female mayor.

New York City is typically known as being powerful, progressive and a city of firsts. 

In November 2020, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, two New York candidates, became the first two openly gay Black men elected to Congress after they were declared winners in their House races. Less than a month ago, the city’s first Black female schools chancellor, Meisha Porter, was named by mayor Bill de Blasio. 

One important seat of local power has yet to meet an important first, though — New York City has never had a female mayor. 

In other major cities like Chicago, that glass ceiling was broken four decades ago. Then, in 2019, Chicago elected Lori Lightfoot as their second woman, first openly lesbian and third Black mayor in the history of the city. In fact, across 27 of the largest American cities, you can find women at the helm. Yet, out of all 109 people who have held the position of New York City’s mayor, not a single one has been female.

Change could be coming

With only three months left until the June 22 Democratic primary for mayor, news headlines are abuzz with the many options the city has for their next elected leader. This year, more women than ever are running for the position and with a clearer path to possible success than in years past. 

For one thing, this year’s female mayoral candidates have more access to donor dollars and are supported by a new voting system that, according to The New York Times “weakens old-guard power brokers.” For another, the state is currently deep seated in scandal over the recent accusations of sexual harassment made against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Many of the women now running for mayor have sharply criticized Cuomo and assert that they would present the city with a new kind of leadership.

Two democrats, Kathryn Garcia and Maya Wiley, were among the first mayoral hopefuls to urge Cuomo to resign, while fellow candidate Dianne Morales has called for his impeachment. By contrast, prominent male candidates such as Andrew Yang and Eric Adams have been more cautious with their wording, saying recently that Cuomo should step aside until the investigations are complete.

Wiley once served as counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio and is now calling upon the men in the race to join her in her call for Cuomo to resign.

“It is clear that this is a man who behaves this way,” said Wiley. “This isn’t a single mistake. This isn’t a misinterpretation. This is a set of behaviors, and this is who he is.”

So far, Cuomo has been accused by seven women of sexual harassment or misconduct, including former aide Lindsey Boylan who penned an essay about multiple uncomfortable and sexualized interactions she had with Cuomo over the course of several years working for the governor. Most of the women who have come forward have worked for or with Cuomo in the past, with the exception of Anna Ruch, who claims Cuomo made unwanted advances towards her at a 2019 wedding.

If Cuomo were to resign or be removed from office he would be succeeded by Lieutenant Gov. Kathy Hochul, in which case would also present the state with its first-ever female governor. 

The gender bias issue

While the possibility of electing a female mayor this summer is more probable than ever, it still won’t be an easy win for any of the candidates. In the 2013 mayoral race, then-candidate Christine Quinn lost to de Blasio in the Democratic primary after some voters said they found her “unlikable.”

Female politicians and businesswomen alike are all too familiar with the issue of gender bias — often being seen as unlikable as their power grows, according to multiple researchers on gender and politics. Quinn told The New York Times she now wishes she had been more authentic, rather than catering to what she thought the people wanted her to act like.

“That’s probably exactly what you want in the mayor of New York — a bitch with a big heart, and I’m both,” she said.

Garcia, seen by many as a probable frontrunner in the current mayoral race, said she feels like people vet women candidates differently. It’s a lot of, “‘Yeah, you seem nice, but...,” she said in a Gothamist interview, referring to the plethora of doubts typically cast onto female hopefuls. “They don't do that to the men. Nobody's saying, ‘Eric Adams or Scott Stringer, what exactly have you managed that’s of any scale?’ Or Andrew Yang, for that matter, who everyone is in love with.”

“I'm more qualified than any of the men in the race, by far, and so I don't just run as the most qualified woman, I run as the most qualified person,” said Garcia.

Published on Mar 19, 2021