How New York State’s Incoming Governor Can Succeed

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With New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stepping down over a sexual-harassment scandal, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is ascending to the top job at a pivotal moment for the state.

Covid cases have come roaring back and vaccinations have stalled in many places. Public-school children have suffered a year-plus of learning loss. Unemployment remains well above the national average, while major job losses have pummeled all regions of the state.

Turning this around will be no small task. For Hochul to succeed, she’ll need to start by doing something very difficult: forgetting about the next election. Hochul has made clear that she plans to run for a full term next year, which makes sense. But the worst thing she could do for the state — and for her election prospects — would be to start campaigning now. If she governs without regard for politics, she has an opportunity to set the state back on course and set herself up for a four-year term.

Hochul’s top priority should be economic recovery. As a Buffalo native, she’s familiar with the problems that have long plagued the upstate area’s economy. Bringing more jobs to the region will require both vision and creativity. By enlisting a wide range of private-sector leaders, entrepreneurs and university presidents, she can begin to change the way the state invests in areas that have faced decades of economic stagnation.

Downstate will need help too, especially the jobs engine of New York City. Although the governor’s role in the city’s economy is limited, Hochul can directly support the recovery in one crucial respect: getting the subways working again. New Yorkers who have been working remotely need to know that they can return to their jobs without being stuck on a sweltering platform for an indefinite period. The state-controlled agency that runs the subways, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, has lacked steady leadership for years. Several talented executives have quit in frustration with Albany. Hochul needs to ensure the agency is well-led and strongly supported, with the immediate goal of returning subway service to pre-pandemic schedules.

A strong economic recovery also depends on reopening all public schools five days a week. That will not only help students get back on track, but allow more parents to return to full-time work. Hochul would do well to follow California’s lead and require vaccinations or testing for all education professionals, while allowing local flexibility in determining policies for masks and social distancing.

One of the most frustrating impediments to economic recovery is vaccine hesitation. While nearly 70 percent of adult New Yorkers have gotten their shots, pockets of resistance remain. The Bronx, for instance, is behind in vaccinations — as is the African American community at large. Nothing is more important than ensuring that all eligible New Yorkers get their shots. Hochul needs a statewide plan to reach out to vaccine-hesitant groups that is tailored to each community — and that goes beyond simply airing TV commercials.

At the same time, Hochul can start getting more Covid-related aid to those who need it. For instance, New York has access to nearly $3 billion in rental relief funds, mostly from federal aid, yet it has largely failed to distribute this bounty to those who need it. If ever there were an opportunity to make friends while also doing the right thing, this is it.

There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful about New York’s first female governor. Most notably, Hochul is more a pragmatist than an ideologue, with roots in local government. Cities and towns are on the front lines of all the state’s major challenges, and she’d do well to listen to mayors and county executives. When they succeed, the whole state benefits — and so too will her political career.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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