Hochul Promises New Era of Collaborative Government in New York
(Bloomberg) -- Kathy Hochul, New York’s newly sworn-in governor, said Tuesday that her first task is to restore the credibility of government after a wrenching sexual-harassment scandal ended the term of her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
“I want people to believe in their government again. It’s important to me that people have faith,” said Hochul, a 62-year-old Democrat. She became the state’s first female leader at midnight, but held a ceremonial swearing-in later in the morning.
She promised to work closely with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and his successor. Cuomo had a famously fractious relationship with the man who governed the nation’s largest city.
“There’ll be no blindsiding, there’ll just be full cooperation,” Hochul said.
Hochul rose to the position after serving as lieutenant governor to Cuomo for six years. Cuomo announced he would be resigning on Aug. 11, effective two weeks from that day, after a damning report by Attorney General Letitia James pushed the state Assembly, which continues a probe into Cuomo’s conduct, to threaten impeachment. Hochul will serve out the remainder of his term through December 2022 and has already said she plans to run for re-election.
Cuomo for months had been under pressure to resign after the first wave of allegations against him arose. After the report corroborated that he had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women, a flurry of New York and national politicians, including President Joe Biden, called on Cuomo to step down. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who largely controlled whether or not an impeachment investigation would go forward, said Cuomo had lost the confidence of the legislature.
Now, Hochul must overcome the shadow of Cuomo’s scandal while addressing the state’s sluggish economic recovery and rising Covid rates. With the highly contagious delta variant causing an increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, she confronts a state in which only 59% of residents are fully vaccinated. She will also have to address the pandemic without the emergency powers once afforded to her predecessor and mend relationships with the legislature, which isn’t due to return to Albany until January.
Hochul, a Democrat, has said she hadn’t spoken to Cuomo in months and was unaware of the sexual harassment accusations before they were made public. After Cuomo said he would step down, Hochul pledged to dismiss state employees implicated for wrongdoing in the attorney general’s report and to change Albany’s “toxic” work culture.
Since then, she’s gone on a whirlwind tour around the state to project an image polar opposite of her predecessor -- chatting with journalists at the Erie State Fair and meeting with longtime Cuomo foe, New York City Mayor Blasio, and his schools chancellor Meisha Ross Porter. She’s met with members of the health department to talk about the state’s response to rising Covid cases, as well as the state Congressional delegation and Long Island labor leaders.
At an Aug. 18 appearance at an elementary school in Queens, Hochul stressed that fighting the Covid virus would be her first priority and that once in office, she would institute a statewide mask mandate inside schools. She pledged a “new era” in state government and a departure from the past rancorous relationships between Albany and New York City.
She also vowed to get federal aid money out of state coffers and into the hands of landlords, tenants and other businesses and individuals who will benefit from the federal legislation. “There are people out there desperate for this money,” she said.
Hochul hails from Buffalo, far from the New York City political center that Cuomo and most other previous governors came from. She graduated from Syracuse University and obtained her law degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., before entering a decades-long career in politics that included 13 years on the Hamburg Town Board and five as Erie County Clerk.
In completing a predecessor’s term, Hochul joins a long line of “first women” in American politics. The first female U.S. Senator, Rebecca Felton of Georgia, and first female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming, both started their jobs by appointment, not election. Those circumstances can contribute to a phenomenon known as the “glass cliff,” in which women are promoted to lead only during crises.
For Hochul, stepping into office post-scandal is already a familiar role. In 2011, she won a special election for Congress after Republican U.S. Representative Chris Lee resigned following reports he solicited extramarital sex online.
In Congress, she built a voting record to match her district’s right-leaning bent. She got an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and voted against several measures backed by environmental groups. Those positions, as well as her since-reversed opposition to issuing drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, have made her a source of unease for the state legislature’s growing progressive base.
Cuomo tapped Hochul to serve as his lieutenant governor in 2014, seeking contrast in a western New Yorker, a moderate and a woman. But he viewed the role of lieutenant governor as a ceremonial one, guarding his inner circle and not including her in major decisions or the televised pandemic briefings that won him an Emmy Award. In turn, she took to the road: She visited New York’s 62 counties each year as lieutenant governor, spending more time with local officials than with the man she’s now replacing.
The distance between Cuomo and Hochul may serve her well as she enters office after his scandals. She’s said that she wants to clear the Executive Chamber of the culture that allowed his alleged abuse to happen but has asked most people to stay on for 45 days to ensure a seamless transition.
“I’m prepared for this,” she said at the Aug. 18 event in New York City. “I don’t have time for distraction.”
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