All of New York’s top lawmakers are single

Recently single Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Recently single Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Recently single Governor Andrew Cuomo.

All of New York’s top lawmakers are single

Who says you’ve got to be married to get ahead in politics?
February 13, 2020

FDR had Eleanor. Dinkins had Joyce. Mario had Matilda.

But today’s class of New York elected officials are riding solo. In fact, almost all of the state’s most powerful politicians are unmarried.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently separated from his longtime partner, Sandra Lee. State Attorney General Letitia James has never married. Ditto for state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is unmarried, while state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been a widow since 2007. Stewart-Cousins’ top deputy, state Sen. Michael Gianaris, is divorced, as is state Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan.

The only married statewide elected official? Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is married to former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York Bill Hochul.

The state has been trending this way for a while. In 2010, DNAinfo noted that New York was being led by bachelors, with Cuomo and DiNapoli being in the same positions that they have now, and the unmarried Eric Schneiderman serving as state attorney general. But the Assembly speaker at the time, Sheldon Silver, was married, as were all of the majority leaders cycling through the state Senate during that tumultuous time. Go back another 10 years and everyone had spouses. In 2000, New York’s leaders – Gov. George Pataki, Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue, state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and state Comptroller H. Carl McCall – were all married. Same for Silver and state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Another decade earlier, the situation was the same, with all of the state’s top leaders living in matrimony in 1990.

In a time when people are reconsidering the roles, expectations and titles we have for political spouses, New York’s top leaders are simply opting out.

Do voters care?

“I don’t think it matters. I think it’s interesting, but I don’t think it matters,” said Bob Liff, a longtime New York City journalist who now works as a political consultant for George Arzt Communications. It’s a positive development that voters seem to care less now about a candidate’s gender, sexual orientation or relationship status, he said, adding, “You can think they’re all bums without regard to their marital status.”

Things look slightly different in New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio’s love-filled, 25-year marriage to Chirlane McCray is central to both his political image and policy portfolio. City Comptroller Scott Stringer made his 2010 marriage political too, wedding his wife Elyse Buxbaum in Connecticut to protest New York’s failure to recognize same-sex marriage at the time. The city has a history of unmarried mayors though, from Ed Koch to Michael Bloomberg, and could return to those days after 2021. Stringer may be attached, but another leading candidate, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, is unmarried. Another top contender, the once notoriously single New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, may or may not have a boyfriend now, but he too, is unmarried.

Of course, there is still some significance placed on political spouses – especially when they break the historical mold. Johnson recently offered praise upon hearing a fellow gay politician, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, mention his marriage on stage.

“Moving to hear a Presidential candidate thank his husband in front of the world,” he tweeted. “Progress!”

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.