Women Leaders Make History in New York State

Amanda Hunter | Aug 12, 2021


When Governor Cuomo steps down from his role as governor, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul is poised to become the first-ever woman governor of New York. And if Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins becomes New York’s first Black female Lt. Governor, the two women will make history together as the only all-women team leading a state in the country.

Throughout history, a number of women have become governor when the current governor was forced to step down due to wrongdoing. Two current governors, Kate Brown in Oregon, and Kay Ivey in Alabama, initially took office when their state’s previous leader resigned in scandal. Both women subsequently ran for and won their own full terms.

Until now, New York was one of the 20 states in the country that has never been led by a woman. Women are still vastly underrepresented in governorships across the country.  There are currently eight women Governors, and Hochul brings the count to nine (and nine is the record number of women governors at one time in the U.S.—first set in 2004). Throughout history, only 44 women have ever served as governor. Hochul will be number 45. To paint a picture, the total number of women governors in history could not only fit on their own New York City subway car—they could each have their own seat! Contrast that with more than 2,300 men who have served as governors—enough to pack into several entire subway trains!

At the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, our research shows that one reason the gubernatorial level is so male dominated is because women face obstacles when running for executive office that men do not.

  • Voters have been traditionally more comfortable seeing women serve in a legislative body than executive office where she will have sole decision-making authority.
  • Voters then hold women running for executive office to different and higher standards when it comes to qualifications and likeability.

Often those higher standards mean that women who become governor are highly qualified and accomplished—they come to the job prepared and prepped by years of proving themselves fit for public service. Kathy Hochul, for example, previously served as a member of Congress, where she won a seat previously held by a Republican in 2011. Earlier in her career, she worked for former Congressman John LaFalce and for former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In New York, she is known for visiting all 62 of the state’s counties every year.

Will having a woman governor help break down the imagination barrier in New York? Probably. Does it pave the way for a woman to be elected governor for a full term? That is a far more complicated question. We will be watching to see if Governor Hochul is held to different and higher standards as governor, and how her tenure as governor challenges stereotypes about women in the executive office.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter to keep track of all things gender and politics.

Join the Conversation