Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
Kara Alaimo: Actress Cynthia Nixon mulling a long-shot run for NY governor; good news, as more women should be in politics
She says Nixon, a progressive, would face the formidable Andrew Cuomo, could draw him further to the left
“Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon appears to be considering a run for governor of New York. On the “Today” show on Tuesday, she said she was being encouraged to throw her hat in the ring, but declined to say whether she would do so.
Nixon has been a longtime political advocate, particularly on education issues, and served on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s advisory board for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
Discount her if you will as an actress out of her depth, but then consider that our President is a former real estate salesman and TV host. Or take a look at this.
Nixon’s candidacy would be good for the state and country because, for starters, we need more women in politics.
But to be sure, it would be a long-shot bid because Nixon, who is progressive, would likely run on the Democratic ticket against an incumbent candidate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who already has a $25 million war chest. And she may not be the only contender: Stephanie Miner, the mayor of Syracuse, and Terry Gipson, a former state legislator, are also being discussed as possible candidates.
But Nixon’s entry into the race might also be a good thing for Cuomo. Although he’s widely expected to run for re-election as governor in 2018, his potential presidential ambitions for 2020 are no secret.
Many believe his biggest challenge in a presidential bid would come from the left – not from President Donald Trump – as Cuomo has endeavored to stake out a centrist approach to governing. Refining his messages against a high-profile contender like Nixon, likely to command interest outside New York, would be good practice for the national stage.
And battle with the formidable Cuomo would be but one of the challenges that awaits Nixon, should she decide to seek the nomination. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, just 24% of statewide elected officials, 24.9% of state legislators and 19.6% of members of Congress are female.
That’s a problem, because women bring critical perspectives to politics. A recent report by the Rutgers center found evidence that women are more “consensual and collaborative” and more likely to work across party lines.
Our gridlocked, contentious country needs this kind of leadership more than ever. In New York, for example, the chest-thumping relationship between Cuomo and de Blasio over who will fix the city’s crumbling transit infrastructure offers a golden opportunity for the entrance of a calm voice of reason and, one would hope, progress.
Another study of women in Congress found that women are more successful than men at getting federal funding for their districts.
Still, one reason women don’t tend to run for office is because they’re less likely than men to see themselves as leaders. Research by the Women & Politics Institute at American University found that a woman with the same qualifications as a man is less likely to view herself as qualified for public office.
The study also found that women are less likely to be encouraged to run by others and are often overburdened with household and child care duties, leaving them less time to get involved in politics.
And watching the treatment Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin endured when they ran for office confirmed some women’s “worst fears” about the way female candidates are treated, the institute’s researchers found. Other researchers say the problem is also that women are less competitive than men.
Another piece of the puzzle is gender bias. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that the majority of Americans believe it’s easier for a man to get elected than a woman. That could be because people still associate leadership roles with men. But if more women got involved in politics, that would change.
That’s why, when a woman like Nixon is considering a candidacy, we should really, really encourage her to run.
Of course, because there are fewer women currently in politics, female candidates are likely to have less traditional political backgrounds. Nixon, for example, hasn’t held office before.
But voters should be open to the alternate perspectives that women can bring to the table. Nixon is a mother of three who has a record of championing school reform. Specifically, she has long argued that it’s wrong that school spending on poor students is significantly lower than spending on richer students.
No question, if Nixon runs, she needs to supplement her own resume by selecting a running mate with executive experience and knowledge of a broader array of policy issues. But she’s a smart woman, she’ll study up quick, as have so many politicians before her.
And she will have to gain a nomination on the merits of her platform and selection of a running mate. She’ll have to build voters’ confidence in her ability to channel their concerns and will have to swiftly ride a learning curve. But none of these challenges should deter her from seeking office.
For now, we should be encouraging Nixon — loudly – to run.