In New York politics, spouses optional

I’ve covered politics for a quarter-century and in much of the country a candidate with top-flight ambition needs one thing:  a spouse

But yesterday’s state-of-the-state address featured not one but two A-list New York politicians who were accompanied by their unmarried partners.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s significant other, Diana Taylor, was on-hand.

The 52-year-old businesswoman (I can’t bring myself to call her a “girlfriend”) regularly serves as Bloomberg’s unofficial first lady, hosting public events, campaigning, and marching in parades.

Also sitting in the audience was Governor Andrew Cuomo’s partner, food-and-decorating entrepreneur Sandra Lee.

The 44-year-old hosts a show on the Food Network and will apparently serve as New York state’s ersatz first lady.

Having an unmarried governor in office isn’t a first for New York.  Hugh Carey’s first wife Helen passed away a year before he took office in 1975.

Cuomo divorced his first wife, Kerry Kennedy, in 2005.

In the past, marriage was seen as a sign of social stability and groundedness.  It was also a crucial factor for many the state’s more socially-conservative Jewish and Roman Catholic voters.

A first-spouse can also be an important adviser for policy and strategy — think Hillary Rodham Clinton or Todd Palin — not to mention a key ally when times are tough.

But times have changed and in the post-Spitzer era, being safely single might be an equal asset.

Of course, the North Country has also had experience with unmarried politicians.

Former Rep. John McHugh — now Army Secretary — was married briefly when he entered politics, but divorced early, and served most of his congressional career as a bachelor.


9 Comments on “In New York politics, spouses optional”

  1. Solidago says:

    “Companion” seems to be the term of choice to describe Bloomberg’s significant other. I like the term – sounds respectable and respectful, and suitably stuffy. “Girlfriend” definitely doesn’t work, and “partner” is most frequently used in reference to gay and lesbian relationships.

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  2. mervel says:

    I have never liked “partner”. It always sounded to me like some person you go in with to build a Denny’s franchise on the outskirts of town, not someone you love.

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  3. Brian Mann says:

    Yeah, it’s tough to know what to call significant others. Companion is pretty good, though there is still some weirdness there.

    I think this sort of speaks to the fact that language is often slow to catch up with new social realities, especially in these sensitive areas.

    I honestly don’t think we have a good word for this kind of long-term committed, unmarried relationship, despite the fact that it’s an increasingly common thing.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  4. mervel says:

    Yeah I think companion is better, but then I start thinking about companion dogs or good friends or someone you hike with or go on adventures with, my hiking companion is lost!

    Maybe paramour? Something French sounding would be good something that adds the spice of romance without sounding like teenagers.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    Girl friend is good. It keeps everyone guessing.
    I have a girl friend, in addition to my wife. Longest friendship I have ever had. We were friends since we were 21 and first in NYC to study acting. We were friends before I met my wife and she attended our wedding.
    Every time I’m in NYC, we go out to lunch or dinner.
    All of this is to say, “Who cares?”
    Didn’t know and don’t care Bloomberg, Cuomo and McHugh are not married. Don’t care what relationships they have or don’t have.

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  6. Mervel says:


    I care about who the closest adviser’s are to the women and men who are in the top government positions in this state and country.

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  7. Mervel says:

    Marriages and relationships are not what they were in 1955, they are not based on a leader husband and a wife who follows and takes care of the home. Today our relationships are often equal partnerships particularly among these types of men and women who are in political office. Work is part of home there is no distinction; husbands and wives consult each other about their work and take serious counsel from each other. Our political leaders will listen to the educated and often comparably qualified paramour’s that they have in their life when making decisions that impact all of us.

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    I would suppose anyone with half a brain would listen to anything said by any spouse, relative or friend. It would be a very stupid person who didn’t at least listen. That’s not to say they would follow or accept what is said. But if they don’t at least listen, they will soon find they don’t have a spouse and all their friends and relatives will dump them because they are obviously just too full of their own self to bother.
    By the way, I doubt there ever was a time when spouse had no influence whatsoever. And they don’t have to be EDUCATED to have an influence.

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  9. mervel says:

    Yes all spouses have influence and always have. But I think it really is different when you have a spouse who has an independent career and who is an equal professional partner in the relationship who will indeed weigh in on policy decisions of the elected official. Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton are both professionals independent of any relationship they have with their husbands, their identity is not only defined through their relationship with their husband. As Hillary said, she is not sitting home baking brownies she was and is an independent policy analyst. This is a role that she served in as First Lady; it is a role Michelle Obama is playing now. This is intrinsically different from the role that Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Roslyn Carter and Nancy Reagan all took.

    It is even more important today to know who the spouse or paramour is and what they believe when we elect someone. Diana Taylor will have influence on policy decisions made in NYC.

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