Why NYC still hasn’t elected a woman to be mayor

William Alatriste

Why NYC still hasn’t elected a woman to be mayor

If no female candidates run in 2021, what does it say about the city?
May 8, 2019

In 2013, then-New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the early frontrunner for mayor, but her campaign fizzled out in a crowded Democratic primary. Four years later, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis was the Republican nominee, but she failed to notch an upset against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. In 2021, will things be any different – or will another man be elected to the city’s highest office?

This week, we asked our readers to predict whether the city might finally elect a woman to run City Hall – and the results were not promising. While a majority (82%) predicted that at least one woman would enter the race, an even greater share (88%) predicted that a woman would not win. A quarter of voters said Quinn is the woman most likely to run again.

Now, we’re turning to the experts. In this week’s “Ask the Experts” feature, we reached out to Suri Kasirer, the founder and president of the government relations firm Kasirer LLC; Monica Klein, a founding partner at the political consulting firm Seneca Strategies and the former communications director for de Blasio’s 2017 campaign; Cristyne Nicholas, co-founder and CEO of Nicholas & Lence Communications and a former communications director for Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Basil Smikle Jr., founder of Basil Smikle Associates and a former executive director of the New York Democratic Party.

Here’s what they had to say.

Will any women run for mayor of New York City in 2021?

Cristyne Nicholas: I sure hope so. When I taught at the Yale Women’s Campaign School in the early 2000s, our motto was 50/50 by 2020, meaning 50% women in elected offices nationwide. Here we are and sadly the goal hasn’t been reached. It would be great to see the first female New York City mayor take office in 2022. However, New York City is and historically has been male dominated. In the City Council right now there are only 11 female members out of 51 seats. All of the citywide elected offices are also held by men – mayor, city comptroller, public advocate and council speaker. Many people thought Tish James, the former public advocate, would run for mayor – and I think she would have excellent appeal – but her recent victory in the New York attorney general race might change her interest in citywide office. However, I do l think we will see some female mayoral candidates in 2021.

Monica Klein: It’s early to predict the final field or who will come out on top – two years before the last open mayoral race, pundits were saying de Blasio was delusional and Quinn was a shoe-in. The field will inevitably develop, but newcomers face the real challenge of fundraising more than $6 million in a shorter time frame. Many of the men we expect to run have already spent years courting donors and collecting checks.

Suri Kasirer: As a woman, a business owner and active in civic and political matters, I always promote woman. It is important to me that qualified woman are given a chance and everything else being equal, I would like to see women in all sorts of leadership positions. That said, I am also very aware that it is patronizing to women to advocate on behalf of women only because of gender. That I do not support.

Basil Smikle: I’m firmly believe women will run for mayor of New York City in 2021. More inclusive political parties or alternate paths to elective office have been a consistent theme in local elections since the Women’s Municipal League fought Tammany Hall in the late 1800s. Since volunteering for Ruth Messinger’s campaign in 1997, I’m thankful to have witnessed amazing women running for local and statewide office. Major cities within the state like Rochester, Albany and Syracuse – with notable exceptions – have elected women. A few factors may contribute to a clearer path. The city’s diversity may help greatly. New York City saw its first majority-minority electorate in 2013, which suggests that voters have taken, and will take, a stronger proactive interest in more diverse candidates, mirroring a national trend. Older, more entrenched networks that may have privileged men (even men of color) over women are being dismantled. While we’ve been a fairly progressive city in many ways, our inability to elect a woman to its highest office keeps that narrative from being fully realized.

Who should run? Who will run?

Suri Kasirer: There are so many competent and qualified woman who would surely make a fine mayor. There are dozens of women who have been elected and appointed to high positions of importance and responsibility – and are doing a great job. So there is no question women can do the job, that’s not at issue. The issue is, who is out there now that we know are considering a run and are they up to the job? I cannot think of any at the moment. It does not mean good, competent, candidates will not emerge, but I just do not see them, at least not now.

Basil Smikle: Several women already in prominent positions like Melinda Katz, Christine Quinn, Gale Brewer, Melissa Mark Viverito, Eva Moskowitz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could throw their hat into the ring. But viable candidates can emerge from the business community, philanthropies or academia. The next mayor may be no one we’re talking about right now.

Monica Klein: Anyone planning to throw their hat in the ring – woman or man – should have a strong, progressive vision for this city; a plan to create more affordable housing and address the transit crisis; the managerial experience to oversee countless chaotic agencies; and a compelling personal story that will appeal to voters across the five boroughs.

Cristyne Nicholas: Two factors that will likely play out in this election, regardless of gender: 1) how progressive the candidate is and 2) if they have citywide name recognition. As we’ve seen with the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, most Democrats are vying for the furthest left position. But the ideological pendulum may swing back in the wake of the failed Amazon deal, which is good news for more moderate and business-friendly candidates like Eva Moskowitz and Julie Menin should they choose to run. Gale Brewer and Melinda Katz will always be considered mayoral timber as long as they are in civic life. New Yorkers may also find appeal in a candidate outside government – like a doctor (Nan Hayworth) or journalists (my first boss, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley of Maryland, or former Daily News reporter Laura Curran, who is thriving as Nassau County executive). Christine Quinn certainly has the name recognition and experience, and in 2013 was seen as the more moderate choice, so her time might be right in 2021. Nicole Malliotakis ran a spirited and respectable campaign as the 2017 Republican mayoral candidate, yet it was an uphill battle with the anti-Trump sentiment and huge enrollment disadvantage. For now, Nicole has set her sights on Max Rose’s congressional seat and is a rising star.

If no women run, what does it say about the city?

Monica Klein: The mayoral field is emblematic of a larger problem in New York City: the dearth of women in positions of leadership across the board. Men occupy every citywide seat in New York City; only 11 of our 51 City Council members are women; and just one of our five district attorneys is a women. These numbers are shameful for a city that purports to be a progressive leader in 2019. The question is – why don’t we have a bench? We have to start mentoring and developing female leaders on the local level. We need to encourage women from a young age to see themselves as leaders instead of pushing us towards supporting roles. And we need to elect more women to local positions; promote more women to managerial positions and as agency heads; and encourage more women to take on higher positions in elected office and elsewhere.

Basil Smikle: If no woman runs, it means that the barriers once thought to be showing signs of wear are still quite substantial and more needs to be done to eradicate them. The problems wouldn’t be, and haven’t been, just about the pipeline. We can elect legislators, U.S. senators, a comptroller and attorney general but not an executive. The electorate is undoubtedly still wrestling with long-held stereotypes against women leaders that have certainly come to the forefront since President Trump took office. Operationally, the path through political clubs was restricted, which also intersected barriers related to race, ethnicity and geography (inter-borough rivalries). These challenges have diminished somewhat thanks to extraordinary leadership and leveling of the playing field through campaign finance and groups like Eleanor’s Legacy that recruit and support women candidates. By 2021, I imagine there will be multiple streams that will catapult women to be viable candidates. Failing to do so would say a lot about how far we have yet to go.

Cristyne Nicholas: It may say more about the party in control than the city itself, with a 6-to-1 registered voter advantage for Democrats. An interesting fact is that the last mayoral race had a female running citywide, and the Manhattan Republican Party is also chaired by a woman, Andrea Catsimatidis. Regardless of party affiliation, in my life experience, women make great multi-taskers and are more compassionate. With the current homelessness crisis and the current state of NYCHA, I trust a woman will not only be able to find the housing, but will be able to clean it up too!

Suri Kasirer: I will keep my eyes open and wait to see what happens. You can be sure that if such a person emerges, I will take a serious look and likely get behind her candidacy.

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.
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