What Hochul’s rise and Cuomo’s fall say about women (and men) in politics

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“I’m ready for this,” New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference Wednesday, signaling with a strong performance that she is prepared to replace Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he steps down Aug. 24. Cuomo’s resignation — tendered a day earlier following a report by the state attorney general accusing him of sexually harassing 11 women — and his replacement by fellow Democrat Hochul carry two important lessons.

First, Cuomo’s stunning fall from power as he faced near-certain impeachment and conviction by the state legislature should be a warning sign to men that times have changed and their behavior toward women must change as well. 

We don’t want to be patted or rubbed on the rear end, kissed and groped on the job. We just want to be able to do our jobs. In government and politics, that means working to build better futures for the constituents we serve — not serving as sex objects for the gratification of the men we work for and with. 

Second, Hochul’s elevation to the governorship puts a spotlight on the need for more women to serve in elected office and in senior-level government positions, where we remain severely underrepresented. Most importantly, women have the ability to help government operate more effectively — if only we are given the opportunity. And when more women are in elected office and high-level posts, there’s less chance men will sexually harass any woman at work. 

Until now there have been only 44 women governors in 30 states (and none in New York) in all of American history, beginning with the first two to be elected in 1925. Hochul will become the 45th, as well as the ninth woman governor in office this year. The first woman governor was elected to replace her husband when he died, and the next two were elected as surrogates to succeed their term-limited husbands. It wasn’t until 1975 that Ella Grasso, (D-Conn.) became the first woman elected governor in her own right.

While women make up just over half the population, we currently hold only 119 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House, and 24 of 100 seats  in the U.S. Senate. That’s a big improvement from the past, but still far from equitable. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other women in Congress have proven beyond all doubt that women can do an outstanding job as legislators.

In addition, as everyone knows, America has never had a woman president, even though Hillary Clinton won nearly 3 million more popular votes than Donald Trump in 2016. And it wasn’t until this year that a woman became vice president, with the election of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Keep in mind that until the Constitution was amended in 1920, women nationwide weren’t even allowed to vote. And even then, many Black women (and Black men as well) were effectively barred from voting in the South by racist Jim Crow laws until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted.            

Hochul admitted candidly Wednesday that Cuomo never made her part of his inner circle and never took advantage of her skills and government experience to allow her to serve as his strong deputy in running state government. Instead, she spent most of her time traveling around New York state giving speeches, attending events and speaking with reporters in support of Cuomo’s policies and priorities. Right now her distance from the disgraced Cuomo is an asset, but New Yorkers were deprived of her full talents for the more than six years she has served as lieutenant governor.

It’s too bad that Cuomo never gave Hochul major responsibilities the way President Biden has done with Vice President Harris. As a former vice president himself, Biden understands that the No. 2 elected official in government has a lot to contribute, and he’s making Harris a partner in the same way President Barack Obama gave him high-level responsibilities. And Biden knows that gender is irrelevant to job performance. 

I’ve spent most of my life working in politics and seen plenty of grabby men who think they’re just being friendly with unwanted advances. And I’ve seen plenty of smart, hardworking women relegated to clerical and other support work, denied the chance for leadership roles they are perfectly capable of handling in an outstanding manner. In 2021, that is both unacceptable and senseless. 

Andrew Cuomo accomplished a lot in his 63 years. From a policy perspective he was an excellent public servant as U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, New York attorney general and finally governor. In his current job he responded effectively to the coronavirus pandemic, enacted a $15 minimum hourly wage, marriage equality, tougher gun controls and other progressive legislation. Hochul acknowledged his good work in her news conference, as did President Biden on Tuesday. 

But the days when public accomplishment can be divorced from personal misbehavior are over. Cuomo was right to resign. And Hochul set the tone for a new day when she said at her news conference: “At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.” 

Her record as governor remains to be written, but the former congresswoman, congressional aide and local government official from Western New York is showing plenty of promise.  

DonnaBrazile is a political strategist, a contributor to ABC News and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is the author of “Hacks: Inside the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.”

Tags Andrew Cuomo Andrew Cuomo andrew cuomo resigns new york governor sexual harassment kathy hochul democrats resign Andrew Cuomo sexual harassment allegations Barack Obama Cuomo family Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Joe Biden Kathy Hochul Kathy Hochul Nancy Pelosi

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