“I spoke with Governor Cuomo yesterday and he pledged his full support for a smooth transition,” Hochul said Wednesday. “Regarding his decision to step down, I believe it is appropriate, and in the best interest of the state of New York.”
State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul addressed New Yorkers Wednesday afternoon in Albany, a day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing withering support after an independent probe found he sexually harassed multiple women, announced he’d resign at the end of the month.
“I spoke with Governor Cuomo yesterday and he pledged his full support for a smooth transition,” Hochul said Wednesday. “Regarding his decision to step down, I believe it is appropriate, and in the best interest of the state of New York. And while it was not expected, it’s a day for which I am prepared.”
READ MORE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Resign Following Sexual Harassment Allegations
Cuomo’s departure means Hochul, a lawyer from Buffalo who is in her second term as lieutenant governor, will become the state’s first female governor. Hochul said she was already meeting and speaking with other elected officials and industry leaders in preparation to lead the state.
“My schedule has been robust, and I’m ready,” she said. “I want people to know I’m ready for this.”
While Hochul campaigned and worked alongside Cuomo for the last seven years, she sought to distance herself from the embattled governor on Wednesday. She said she had not been aware of with the conduct revealed in the report released last week by the attorney general’s office, which detailed a litany of sexual harassment complaints lodged against the governor.
She also said her administration won’t retain any of the Cuomo staffers accused of wrongdoing in that report, which described how the governor’s team sought to retaliate against some of the women who accused him.
“It’s very clear that the governor and I have not been close,” Hochul said Wednesday, promising a different office culture than her predecessor. “No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.”
She’s also in talks to select a replacement lieutenant governor, she told reporters, and will make an announcement soon. “There are so many qualified individuals but I’m cognizant of the need for diversity, and an inclusive ticket, and I’m going to name someone that I believe the state will be familiar with and will be very proud of,” she said. “But the process is still in its early stages.”
Despite assurances that the handover will be smooth, the transition comes at a turbulent time: the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have fallen behind on rent while rising costs, homelessness, and crime remain concerning.
“The Delta variant is still raging, and it’s gonna take all of us to defeat it,” Hochul said.
A Syracuse University alum, Hochul previously represented the 26th Congressional District, which includes Buffalo and Niagara falls, triumphing over a Republican in the 2011 special election for the seat. She lost a subsequent re-election campaign, and Cuomo selected her as his running mate in 2014.
“My administration will be fully transparent when I am governor,” she said.
In the last several months, Cuomo faced a flurry of accusations of abuse of power and sexual misconduct, culminating in the release last week of a stinging report from the state attorney general’s office that found he sexually harassed 11 women.
Among other accusations, the governor is alleged to have groped a staffer’s breast under her shirt, made sexually suggestive comments to a state trooper on his protective detail and to a doctor employed by the state, and to have kissed staffers.
Investigators working on the probe charged that the behavior was known to and enabled by Cuomo’s senior staff, who went as far as to direct staff members to secretly record phone calls with some of the governor’s accusers and leak confidential personnel documents to journalists in an effort to discredit some of the women who came forward. This occurred, the investigators said, even as the governor’s senior staff put an “informal protocol” in place “to try to protect the Governor from being alone with young women on the Executive Chamber staff.”
Lawyers for Cuomo—who has repeatedly and vehemently denied the harassment claims—said that the investigation was flawed, designed only to attack the governor politically.
MORE: 4 Key Details From the Cuomo Investigation—And His Lawyers’ Rebuttal—You May Have Missed
On Tuesday, Cuomo claimed a “too hot” political environment drove the calls for him to resign.
“There is an intelligent discussion to be had on gender-based actions, on generational and cultural behavioral differences, on setting higher standards, and finding reasonable resolutions,” he said. “But the political environment is too hot, and it is too reactionary for that now. And it is unfortunate.”
The State Assembly, which can impeach an official, was also investigating the three-term governor, but it’s unclear whether lawmakers will move forward with that probe—or a possible impeachment—in the next 13 days.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
An impeachment, Cuomo said Tuesday, would be a costly “distraction” for a state working to recover from the pandemic.
An Assembly decision to impeach the governor could pass with a majority vote and would prompt a trial before the State Senate and Court of Appeals judges. A Senate conviction could bar Cuomo from holding statewide office.