You could say Angela Wozniak broke though one of Albany’s entrenched gender stereotypes in her first 14 months in office.
The 29-year-old assemblywoman from Cheektowaga set off for the State Capitol little more than a year ago full of the types of promises that wide-eyed candidates make to reform the place. She wanted to fight “against a corrupt, wasteful government” and bring a “strong, honest voice” to Albany.
Instead, she was focused on something else. A state ethics committee this month admonished Wozniak, who is married, for “incredibly poor judgment” in engaging in a nearly monthlong affair with a member of her staff and then retaliating against him.
And so Wozniak, who had stepped into a vacancy in the 143rd Assembly District left open by the sexual-harassment scandal of Dennis Gabryszak, broke into the club of New York politicians marred by sex scandals. In recent memory, the list has been made up of men – with Gabryszak, Eliot Spitzer and Vito Lopez among at least 11 caught up in such wrongdoing.
That’s just in Albany. Remember Anthony Weiner? The congressman-turned-punchline ignited a wave of headlines back in 2011 surmising that there would be fewer sex scandals among the ranks of the country’s political elite if only more women were elected to office.
“When it comes to scandal, girls won’t be boys,” read a New York Times headline after Weiner’s confession that he had tweeted inappropriate pictures. “Women to the rescue,” exclaimed another in the Boston Globe. “Sex scandals highlight dearth of women in politics,” read an Associated Press headline on a story that questioned whether political sex scandals would disappear if more women gained office.
It’s a tempting idea, given the plain fact that far fewer elected women get caught up in publicly exposed sexual shenanigans than men. Some suggest that women are just wired differently. Others theorize that women who make it to higher office are simply too busy juggling careers and family or that the extra scrutiny on female politicians makes them more likely to work harder.
Whatever the reason, it’s troubling to assign any trait based on gender alone.
Perhaps, since there are far fewer women in elected office than men, it’s simply about the numbers. It may be that fewer women are disgraced by bawdy behavior because there are fewer among the political ranks.
We need more women in office because elected officials should reflect the communities they represent, not because of some perceived set of virtues in half the population. To look at it the other way, Gabryszak no more represented all men in public office than Wozniak reflects all female politicians.
The United States consistently ranks low in female representation, with fewer than 20 percent of seats in Congress held by women and fewer than 25 percent of state legislature seats filled by women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
There is a need for more women in office so that women have fair representation among those who hold power. Not because of gender stereotypes.
Wozniak had a chance to pave the way as a young woman breaking through barriers in Albany. Instead, she broke through a glass ceiling that no one cared to see shattered.
Story topics: Denise Jewell Gee