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Hochul to be sworn in Sunday as New York's first elected female governor

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Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
Kathy Hochul addresses the state on the day she succeeded the resigning Andrew Cuomo as governor on Aug. 24, 2021.

Kathy Hochul will make history Sunday when she is sworn in as New York’s first elected female governor, and her first full term in office will have its rewards and its challenges.

Last month, Hochul became the first female governor to be elected in the state’s history.

“The glass ceiling, like the one that’s above us here today, has finally been shattered in the state of New York,” Hochul said on Nov. 8 to a cheering crowd in a restored bank building in lower Manhattan. “And you made it happen.”

Hochul will begin her term with a swearing-in ceremony and speech on New Year’s Day. It’s expected to include more imagery to highlight the lengthy fight for women’s rights that brought her to this day, like the historic Seneca Falls women’s rights convention in 1848.

The Buffalo native replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August 2021 over a sexual harassment and other scandals. She has already overseen a state budget and reacted to two major U.S. Supreme Court decisions. One overturned the abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade; the other struck down the state’s 100-year-old law limiting the carrying of concealed weapons. Hochul backs the right to choose abortion and supports gun safety restrictions.

The governor also raised a record $45 million for a campaign and won election in November in the closest gubernatorial race in the state in nearly a quarter-century.

Despite those achievements, voters are still a bit skeptical. A recent poll by Siena College found that respondents believe that Hochul did not make enough progress on several of her 2022 goals, including improving public safety, enhancing trust in state government, and making the state a desirable place to live and remain in.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg said Hochul was largely unknown when she took office from Cuomo, and her job approval and favorability ratings have yet to rise above 50%.

“Where she stands right now is above water, barely,” Greenberg said. “I’d say ‘meh’ is sort of the word to describe how voters feel about Kathy Hochul right now.”

But Greenberg said Hochul has an opportunity now for a total “reset.”

“She has a chance to reintroduce herself to voters, to talk about the issues they’re concerned about and to show that she’s working hard to address their concerns and achieving results,” Greenberg said.

Hochul will oversee a budget during a time when the state does not have as much money as it did last year, and she faces an increasingly independent-minded State Legislature, where Democrats hold supermajorities in both houses.

She also faces calls from Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, to enact more anti-crime legislation, something that many New Yorkers support.

Hochul also begins the new year with obstacles for her choice as the state’s next chief judge.

She chose appellate court Justice Hector LaSalle from a list of qualified candidates vetted by the state’s judicial nominating commission. But at least a dozen senators from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including the deputy majority leader, say LaSalle’s record is too conservative and they won’t vote to confirm him.

Hochul is sticking with her choice, which would result in the first-ever Latino chief judge in New York state.

“And all these objections will be overcome when the senators look at it with an open mind and actually study the nature of those cases,” Hochul said on Dec. 23. “So I'm standing with him. I'm proud of this selection, and I encourage everyone to give him the fair hearing that he's entitled to.”

After she’s officially sworn in, Hochul has two more major speeches in January. She is set to lay out her plans in a State of the State message, and the state’s spending priorities in her budget presentation.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.