I'm not a big fan of Semi-Homemade Sandra Lee as recipe writer, cook, or TV personality. But as a political spouse, she's the best we have.
First of all, she's not actually a political spouse: She and her sometime housemate, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have not tied the knot, nor does Lee seem to feel any pressure to do so. In a world where women are still pressured to see marriage as one of life's primary purposes, that alone speaks well of her. But she also refuses to act the part of the political helpmate. In a profile of Lee (paired with a story on Cuomo's first 100 days in office), New York magazine reports, "Whereas Silda Wall Spitzer sought Hillary Clinton's advice on how to fill the role, Lee didn't consult any former First Ladies." Chris Cuomo, the governor's younger brother, tells the magazine, "I don't think she sees herself in the First Lady capacity at all."
In the real world, women like Lee who have very, very successful careers of their own do not have to give them up when their husbands or partners happen to land an important job. In the political world, that's not true.
Lee is the first partner of a high-profile politician to opt out of her assigned role altogether, that I know of. She can do this partially because she is legitimately more famous than Cuomo. She's made multiple appearances on The Today Show and The View; her own show, according to the Food Network, has millions of viewers; her cookbooks have made The New York Times' bestseller list. She gets more Google hits than Cuomo. Acting as New York's official hostess would actually be a waste of her time (and probably a violation of some sort of in-kind gift law, given the price she would be able to charge to provide similar services to anyone else). But if everything was right with the world, anyone whose romantic partner was elected to political office would have the freedom to decide they'd rather spend their time in other ways.
That Lee is so successful at what she does makes it particularly annoying that, now that Cuomo is governor, reporters from The New York Times want to make news by asking her about the New York state budget. Why has no one asked Andrew Cuomo how he can live with someone who thought it was OK to bake a "Kwanzaa cake" on national television? Or about the merits of using frozen white bread dough to make soft pretzels?
I understand that the Times asked Lee about the budget for the state's food banks because she was at a food bank fundraiser and could presumably tell the governor over dinner later that night that he really should increase funding for hunger programs to account for rises in wholesale food prices. But what if he were to respond that she really should stop telling people on a budget to buy overpriced, pre-cut vegetables? If they both agreed to the other's request, Lee's concession would probably have a greater dollar value and affect more people's lives.
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