Next N.Y. Governor Vows Quick Effort to Move Past Cuomo Scandals
(Bloomberg) -- Kathy Hochul pledged to put scandals plaguing Governor Andrew Cuomo behind her and address the pandemic, economic recovery and other problems plaguing New York when she takes his job in two weeks.
“In 13 days, I will officially become the 57th governor of the state of New York,” Hochul, who is lieutenant governor, said Wednesday, as she promised to make a sharp break with her predecessor.
“It’s very clear the governor and I have not been close physically or otherwise for quite some time,” Hochul said. “I know New Yorkers. They are hardwired to persevere and to prevail, and the promise I will make to all New Yorkers right here and right now: I will fight like hell for you every day.”
Hochul, a Democrat, will become the state’s first female governor when she takes over for Cuomo, who resigned Tuesday after a report by Attorney General Letitia James that found he sexually harassed 11 women.
Wednesday’s press conference from the State Capitol building in Albany was the first time the lieutenant governor had addressed the public since Cuomo said he would quit. Hochul, 62, will serve the remainder of Cuomo’s term through December 2022.
Set to Go
Hochul said she was capable of taking over immediately and that allowing Cuomo an additional two weeks at the governor’s mansion wasn’t her preference. She said Cuomo pledged a smooth transition.
Until she takes over, Hochul said, Cuomo will remain leader of the state and issue any directives related to the coronavirus response and other government matters.
“New York will only have one governor at a time,” she said. “They viewed it as necessary.”
Hochul said she would dismiss any Cuomo staffers implicated in the attorney general’s report, and promised that no one would ever describe her administration as “toxic.”
She didn’t respond when asked whether she would provide more information about New York’s nursing-home deaths, which Cuomo has been accused of covering up, but pledged a “fully transparent” administration.
Hochul said she has already begun assembling her cabinet and would soon announce a lieutenant governor, declining to name potential prospects. She said she has already spoken with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other members of New York’s congressional delegation, though she missed a call from President Joe Biden while she was on an airplane.
During her speech, Hochul sought to distance herself from Cuomo and the multiple scandals plaguing him. She said that she supported many of his policy priorities, but that’s where the collaboration stopped.
Although Hochul has been Cuomo’s lieutenant governor for six years, she is far less known than her predecessor. She wasn’t present at most of Cuomo’s daily televised Covid-19 press briefings during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York Times reported that the two haven’t spoken since February as she sought to distance herself with the governor after the sexual harassment allegations. On Wednesday, she said she hadn’t been aware of any of the accusations before they became public.
Even during his resignation speech, Cuomo denied wrongdoing. The three-term Democrat still faces possible criminal charges and a potential impeachment investigation. Some lawmakers are pushing for impeachment even after his resignation to ensure that Cuomo can’t run again for statewide office.
On Wednesday, Hochul declined to comment on a possible impeachment.
Her Mess Now
A moderate from Buffalo, far from the power center of Manhattan, Hochul was often overshadowed by Cuomo. Still, her allies say she is prepared to lead. Since she entered politics four decades ago, Hochul has occupied town, county, state and federal offices. As lieutenant governor, she’s also traveled to every county in New York to court local officials.
This isn’t the first time Hochul has found herself cleaning up after a scandal. She won a special election in 2011 to the U.S. House of Representatives after an extramarital affair felled her predecessor.
This time though, she must confront a rising tide of coronavirus cases due to the more contagious delta variant. Large pockets of New Yorkers remain unvaccinated, the state’s economy is still in recovery and gun violence is on the rise.
Cuomo said local governments must now decide whether to reimplement indoor mask mandates, which New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has resisted. Hochul will have a hard time going further -- the legislature stripped the governor of the ability to issue directives without its approval.
Cuomo said this summer that he would mandate vaccines or weekly testing for more than 70,000 public employees, including Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Port Authority workers. Still, the overall pace of vaccination has slowed dramatically, and rolling averages of hospitalizations and deaths are climbing. To reverse those trends, Hochul will have to work with a state Department of Health that hollowed out during Cuomo’s time in office.
“Currently the administration does not possess the executive power that it had last year,” she said.
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