There’s an old saying that you should pick your predecessors wisely.
Newly minted Gov. Kathy Hochul has certainly achieved that.
Not only is Hochul the first woman to lead New York, but she follows an alpha male governor – so macho is the muscle-car driving Andrew Cuomo that he thinks personally helping stranded motorists shows male strength, believes much younger women were enamored of him and held forth during press conferences like an Oxford don.
While Cuomo was a master of pulling the strings of state government, he also admitted that he got a lot of things done during his tenure by intimidation, bullying, and fear.
His style, informed by an enormous ego, also led to some unnecessary self-inflicted mistakes.
Couldn’t he allow the mayor of New York City to win just one time?
This kind of bash or be bashed, zero sum game attitude is not a part of Hochul’s DNA.
While it could be argued that Hochul, who has local, state and federal government experience under her belt, is just as skilled at wielding the levers of state government as Cuomo, like all women, she has had to develop a different style of leadership – a different tool-kit – from the one Cuomo used.
Rather than assert an authoritarian stance – in Cuomoland parlance it was “get along or kill” – Hochul is much more nuanced, a skill that she’s honed to a fine point. How else do you explain her continued presence on the Cuomo ticket in 2018 when it was clear that the governor wanted her gone?
Nuanced leadership is tough, though.
It means being deeply entrenched in the vagaries of policy-making – having a keen understanding of the needs of various key lawmakers. It means that she will have to get things done by arguing for issues on their merits, and perhaps, by turns, making deals, schmoozing when necessary and getting tough if that’s what it takes.
All of which is a lot harder than simply conking someone on the head and saying “my way or the highway”.
By now, we’re all familiar with the playbook stereotypes that detractors use to diminish women in power: If she loses her temper, she’s unhinged. If she cries, she’s menstruating. If she barks at staff, she’s an icy witch.
No doubt Hochul is well aware of these pitfalls and has thus far avoided them after decades in the public eye.
That’s incredibly hard to do.
It’s an overused analogy, but so apt here: Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.
Like Cuomo, Hochul will have to lead New York State, but without the benefit of being male, or having a male ego that informed her predecessor’s every decision.