The history of men being held accountable for sexual misconduct in any numbers is short — three to four years — but there is a relative constant. This is what it takes for a woman, or sometimes anyone but a white guy, to get the job. In 14 days, when Andrew Cuomo’s resignation becomes effective, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will become the first female governor of New York. (Hochul was first elected to Congress after a Republican congressman resigned over sending a shirtless photo to a woman he had made contact with on Craigslist.)
Attorney General Letitia James, whose comprehensive sexual-assault investigation was the nail in Cuomo’s coffin, was the first woman elected to the position, an opportunity afforded by the fact that former attorney general Eric Schneiderman had resigned amid allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Like Cuomo, Schneiderman had positioned himself as a champion of women’s rights. Previously, New York’s first Black governor, David Paterson, stepped in after Eliot Spitzer was found to have patronized sex workers.
It’s not only in New York electoral politics where the most viable path toward female representation is a man finally being found to have gone too far. A man’s removal after allegations of sexual harassment or abuse has resulted in women getting jobs in the U.S. Senate, on PBS, on public radio, as the heads of movie studios, and beyond. The New York Times estimated that of 201 men brought low by their own conduct, nearly half were replaced by women. It has traditionally fallen on women to come in and clean up the mess. This is a phenomenon so codified that there’s a term for the women who are put in charge only when literally everything else has been tried and are thus set up to fail: the glass cliff.
In 2014, Cuomo faced an electoral challenge from a woman, Zephyr Teachout. To undercut the progressive Working Families Party, which had already fallen in line behind him, he formed the so-called Women’s Equality Party. Hochul was the purported face of it, saying at the announcement event, “It is time women stand up and make our voices heard.” Cuomo drove around the state in a pink-striped bus called the Women’s Equality Express. Teachout was defeated by almost 30 points.
In the end, after he was felled by the vetted allegations of 11 women, Cuomo’s singular contribution to women’s equality may be his getting out of the way.