The former lieutenant governor took the oath of office at midnight Tuesday, becoming the state’s 57th executive leader and the first woman to hold the post. She is expected to make her first address to the public later in the day.
Kathy Hochul was sworn in as the governor of New York at midnight on Tuesday, becoming the first woman in history to hold the state’s executive office after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from the post following a series of sexual harassment allegations.
Hochul, a Democrat and attorney from Buffalo, was lieutenant governor under Cuomo since 2015. She previously served one term in Congress representing New York’s 26th Congressional District, and was the Erie County Clerk before that.
Hochul takes the state’s helm at a time of tumult, as New York continues to rebound from the COVID-19 crisis and its accompanying economic fallout. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers owe back rent accumulated during the pandemic, and the spread of the Delta variant has thrown a wrench in the region’s recovery plans.
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She also takes over during a moment of political crisis after Cuomo, a three-term governor whose high-profile father Mario Cuomo also ran the state for more than a decade, stepped down amid multiple scandals. He’s been accused of sexually harassing several women, including current and former staffers who said the governor kissed, groped, made unwanted advances or inappropriate comments to them. Cuomo has denied most of the allegations, saying they were politically motivated.
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So far, Hochul has sought to mark a break from that dysfunction, telling New Yorkers earlier this month that she’d been previously unaware of the harassment claims against the governor and that he administration would mark a cultural shift from her predecessor. “No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” she said at the time. She’s also said she plans to run for governor next year.
“Anytime you enter in the wake of a scandal, you have to deal with its effects and beat back these ‘accidental governor’ claims,” said Michael Miller, an assistant professor of political science at Barnard College, on the challenges ahead for Hochul.
“However, thinking about how our last two elected governors have left office, I think there’s a little bit of poeticism that a woman is now at the helm of the state,” he added, referring to both Cuomo and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 after it was revealed he’d been patronizing sex workers. “You may see in New York, voters who say, maybe it is time for female leadership to take the state in a different direction and hopefully lead from the front to change what sounds like a pretty toxic culture in Albany.”
Hochul, dressed in all white—a color long associated with women’s suffrage—took part in a ceremonial swearing in event at 10 a.m. Tuesday, one her elderly father attended. In remarks after the event, the first woman to lead the state promised a change in the culture of the capitol.
“I want people to believe in their government again,” Hochul said during a very brief question-and-answer session with reporters, assuring New Yorkers that she would be adopting a “fresh collaborative approach.” She said rent assistance for New Yorkers who have fallen behind and the ongoing pandemic were priorities for her administration.
The work has already begun for New York’s newest governor: Hochul has said she will be assembling a cabinet over a 45-day period, but has already announced her picks for secretary and counsel. On Monday night, Hochul spoke with President Joe Biden, she said on Tuesday, and she was scheduled to meet with Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie following her swearing-in event.
She’s also scheduled to address the public for the first time as governor Tuesday in a speech that will be live-streamed at 3 p.m.
While former Governor Cuomo is officially out of office, his name did surface at Tuesday morning’s event. Asked whether a special prosecutor should be appointed to address the claims made about the former governor’s conduct, Hochul demurred, saying she would let the legislature make that decisions.
“I’m going to leave that in the hands of the Assembly,” she said. “They’ve been conducting themselves with great professionalism and I’m going to allow the continuation of the separation of branches of government and allow them to do their work.”
In an afternoon virtual address later on Tuesday, Hochul outlined her immediate priorities, chief among them stemming the spread of the coronavirus by mandating COVID-19 vaccines for New York State school personnel, requiring masks in schools and instituting a testing program for students and those who work in schools.
“New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements” soon, Hochul added. As booster doses of the vaccine become available, the Hochul administration is considering reopening mass vaccination sites.
Also on the agenda: facilitating emergency rent assistance for qualified New Yorkers.
“I am not at all satisfied with the pace that this COVID relief is getting out the door,” Hochul said, adding that state Assembly and Senate leadership was “unified” in its “sense of urgency” on the subject.
The Hochul administration will be rolling out additional education on emergency rental assistance funding and hiring more staff to expedite the process of applying for and securing funds.
“If you apply and qualify, you will not be evicted for a year,” Hochul said.
Speaking to reporters separately on Tuesday after their meeting with Hochul, Stewart-Cousins and Heastie echoed the new governor, saying the ongoing pandemic—and accompanying concerns over rent assistance, vaccination, and school reopening—were key priorities for the new administration.
Keeping New Yorkers in their homes is also “certainly the top most” goal on the agenda, said Stewart-Cousins, who became the first woman majority leader in the state legislature in 2019.
“We’re concerned, obviously,” she said. “Nobody wants to see anybody evicted during this difficult time. It is a conversation that took up most of the leaders’ meeting and we will continue to figure out what the best way to approach is.”
Lawmakers haven’t said yet whether they’ve convene for a special legislative session to revise the state’s eviction moratorium in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling striking a portion of it down, or whether it can be extended beyond its current Aug. 31 expiration date through an executive order from Hochul.
“That was a topic that was discussed amongst myself, the majority leader, and the new governor,” Heastie told reporters Tuesday.
“There’s two priorities: We want to make sure that no one is evicted from their home but we also want to make sure that people who need the assistance can get the assistance,” he added. “There is still a significant population of people who are eligible to receive the ERAP [emergency rental assistance program] funding [who] have not applied. I’d say it has to be a two-pronged approach. How we get there I don’t know the answer yet. But I think all three staffs are going to work diligently to achieve those two goals.”