ALBANY (NYTIMES) – Kathy Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo, became the 57th governor of New York early Tuesday (Aug 24), making history as the first woman to ascend to the state’s highest office.
She was sworn in at the state Capitol by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, in a private ceremony, capping a whirlwind chain of events that followed a series of sexual harassment allegations made against the outgoing governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Hochul, 62, assumes office three weeks after a state attorney general investigation concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women.
A week later, Cuomo announced his resignation, bringing his 10-year reign to an abrupt end after rising to national fame during the pandemic last year.
Hochul, a Democrat, has vowed to lead the state through a still surging pandemic and economic uncertainty, while ushering in a new era of civility and consensus in state government.
“I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and I will tell New Yorkers I’m up for the task,” Hochul told WGRZ-TV, a Buffalo-based news station, shortly after she was sworn in. “I thought about all the women that came before me, including my mother who was not there, but a lot of women through history, and I felt they passed the torch to me.”
Almost immediately, she will have to juggle various pressing issues, from working with lawmakers to strengthen an eviction moratorium that expires later this month to deciding who to retain from Cuomo’s Cabinet.
She is still recruiting her top staff – she announced her top aide and legal counsel Monday – and will announce her selection for lieutenant governor later this week.
Hochul will have to act decisively to curb the rapid spread of the coronavirus delta variant. In doing so, she will have to determine how much to veer from Cuomo’s pandemic response, which local government leaders have often criticised for its lack of communication and coordination.
Hochul will have to restore trust among public health experts, especially at the state Health Department, where some senior executives felt betrayed by the Cuomo administration’s attempt to downplay the number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
And she will have to tackle divisive issues, such as the extent to which to mandate vaccines and masks in workplaces and schools.
In her 14-year trajectory from county clerk to congresswoman to the upper echelons of state government, Hochul has stood out for her affable personality, deftness in retail politicking and demanding travel schedule: She has made a point of visiting each of New York’s 62 counties.
Yet she is mostly an unknown quantity to most New Yorkers, having worked in Cuomo’s shadow during her nearly seven years as lieutenant governor.
Hochul has already used her lack of a close relationship with Cuomo as a way to distance herself from the former governor and the overlapping scandals that engulfed his administration.
As she introduces herself to most voters, she has sought to differentiate her leadership style, promising transparency, a more collaborative approach to governing, and a transformation of the governor’s workplace, which was described in the attorney general report as toxic and hostile.
Indeed, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City and many members of the state Legislature have welcomed Hochul’s rise with a sigh of relief after years of feuding with Cuomo, whose ruthless governing style and overbearing presence led many members of his party to work with him out of intimidation, rather than goodwill.
Hochul is the first woman to become governor of New York after nearly 250 years of male predecessors and the 10th governor to succeed from lieutenant governor.
Hochul is also the first governor from outside New York City and its immediate suburbs since Franklin D. Roosevelt left office in 1932.
A graduate of Syracuse University and Catholic University, where she obtained her law degree, Hochul got her start in politics by working as a staffer on Capitol Hill and the state Assembly.
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