Kathy Hochul, New York’s Incoming Governor, Arrives as an Enigma on Policy
She may not have time or the need to clean house from the Cuomo years
New York will get its first woman governor after the consequences of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s repeated harassment of female aides and acquaintances finally caught up with him.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she agreed with Cuomo’s decision to step down on Tuesday and would be ready to lead the state once her predecessor is officially out of office.
“It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers,” Hochul tweeted in a statement Tuesday. “As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th governor.”
In his televised resignation speech, Cuomo defiantly asserted he “never crossed the line with anyone,” but accepted full responsibility for his actions after a state attorney general’s report detailed multiple instances of his workplace misconduct and his top aides’ coordinated efforts to mitigate the political fallout. He announced he would leave the government in two weeks and said the transition would be “seamless.”
“This is one of the most challenging times for government in a generation. Government really needs to function today. Government needs to perform,” Cuomo said. “It is a matter of life and death — government operations, and wasting energy on distractions is the last thing that state government should be doing. And I cannot be the cause of that.”
The two power brokers aren’t close despite serving in the same administration.
Cuomo asked Hochul to join him in 2014 to add a western New York leader to his ticket after then-Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy chose not to run. Hochul had previously won a special election for a conservative congressional seat in 2011 to replace Republican Chris Lee, who resigned after he sent shirtless pictures to a woman he found on Craigslist. Her district was redrawn to be even more conservative, yet she nearly defeated Republican Chris Collins the following year. (Collins later resigned after pleading guilty for insider trading and former President Trump pardoned him in December.)
But, Cuomo told Hochul to “stay under wraps” due to her conservative views on guns and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. And Cuomo kept Hochul out of his inner circle on budgetary and policy decisions, including those affecting transportation and economic development, preferring to send her across the state to promote his administration’s agenda. She had not had a conversation with him since February, The New York Times reported, but spoke with Cuomo after being informed of his resignation. She had previously called the governor’s behavior “repulsive and unlawful.”
Now, Hochul will be calling the shots, but she might have to rely on Cuomo’s existing network.
She only has nine employees, NYT reported, but has hired two advisers to help with the transition. Other Cuomo aides could be out the door in the coming days. Secretary to the Governor, Melissa DeRosa, announced her resignation Sunday amid the harassment furor, and Larry Schwartz, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member and former state vaccine czar, said he would leave the board if asked.
“I don’t think you’ll see a house-cleaning. She’ll want her own team who she trusts around her. She’ll pick her spots,” said Neal Kwatra, founder of political consultancy Metropolitan Public Strategies. “Where there are good people running state agencies who she trusts and respects, I expect she’ll want to keep a lot of people who are good public servants and try to convince them to stay.”
One job that may stay open for a while is the lieutenant governor post. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become the temporary lieutenant governor while keeping her role as head of the state Senate, an arrangement Hochul may want to keep until she adds more staff and plots a likely reelection campaign in a wide-open Democratic primary next year.
As Cuomo sought balance on his ticket, Hochul could tap an experienced downstate bureaucrat like Kathryn Garcia, who barely lost the Democratic mayoral primary, or Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., political sources said.
The selection will be hers to make after the state appellate court ruled in 2009 that then-Gov. David Paterson had the authority to choose whom he wanted as his deputy.
“Based on the Paterson standard, she can pick whomever she wants,” said James Freedland, founder of communications consultancy Freedland Strategies and a former consultant for Hochul in 2014. “I’m guessing she’ll make a pretty bold pick with diversity or history in mind.”
The challenges Hochul and her team will face once she’s sworn in aren’t likely to dissipate. Coronavirus cases in New York jumped 40 percent last week while hospitalizations skyrocketed 230 percent in the past month as vaccination efforts have stalled amid a diverse array of holdouts. The city’s unemployment rate at 10.6 percent in June was roughly double the nation’s 5.9 percent. Several companies pushed back their office reopenings to October, or even to early next year.
School officials are looking for COVID-19 guidance from the state, while hospitality industry leaders hope they won’t endure further losses. The commercial real estate industry has already signaled that it’s eager to work with Hochul on this and myriad other issues, moving on fast apparently from Cuomo, a longtime industry ally.
Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a business booster group, anticipates that Hochul will want to reach out to business, labor, and state government leaders to ensure everyone is on the same page to solve complex problems facing the state.
“She will be more eager for input, let’s put it that way,” Wylde said. “She will reach out to tap expertise and resources in the business community in ways that the governor didn’t necessarily do. He was kind of a one-person shop. She’s going to need a lot of help from all of us. It’s a very uncertain and difficult time.”
State Republicans are unimpressed. Suffolk County Congressman and likely gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin chided Hochul for being “silent” when the Cuomo administration misled the public over nursing home fatalities during the pandemic. Former gubernatorial candidate and Buffalo developer Carl Paladino said she had “no record to run on.”
“It’s going to be a real mystery about what happens to her,” Paladino said. “She doesn’t have that inner strength to not depend on others, I don’t think she’s going to be successful.
“You have to have a certain amount of self-determination. She’s not like him. She’s not narcissistic,” Paladino added.
But, longtime Hochul allies claim the Erie County pol will be able to control the levers of power in Albany, and even help state and national Democrats appeal to swing voters.
“She’s very skillful, adroit, and I think she’s been underused in her current role, but she’s certainly qualified and as prepared as anyone to meet the moment,” Freedland said.