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After Taking Office, Gov. Kathy Hochul Says 'I Want People To Believe In Their Government Again'

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
Office Of N.Y. Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

Kathy Hochul was sworn in as New York’s 57th governor, and the first woman to hold the office, at midnight Tuesday. While the midnight ceremony was the official swearing-in, Hochul held a ceremonial one at 10 a.m. in the State Capitol's Red Room. Joined by her husband, father, children and siblings, Hochul was sworn in as New York's first female governor and the first one from western New York in more than 100 years.

After the ceremony, Hochul said she wants people to believe in government again. This after her predecessor's administration dealt with multiple scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment.

“This is an emotional moment for me, but it’s one that I’m prepared for,” said Hochul.

Hochul, dressed in white — the color worn by the suffragettes — takes over after 10 years of Andrew Cuomo in office. He resigned rather than face an almost certain impeachment and conviction in the state Legislature. The state’s attorney general, Letitia James, found that Cuomo sexually harassed, and in one case, sexually assaulted, 11 women and presided over an office rife with intimidation and bullying. He’s also under federal investigation for potentially covering up nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been accused of improperly using staff to help him write and edit a $5 million memoir.

Hochul, in a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, said she hopes to change the culture at the Capitol, and institute a “fresh, collaborative approach.”

“I want people to believe in their government again,” Hochul said. “Our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us in these offices, and I take that very seriously.”

In the early afternoon, Hochul met with the Legislature’s Democratic majority leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Stewart-Cousins also broke a glass ceiling when she became the first woman and first African American woman to lead the Senate. She said for the first time, Albany’s legendary three-men-in-a-room decision making process — consisting of the governor and the two legislative leaders — will be made up of two women and an African American man.

“(It’s) Hopefully inspiring to so many people who had never been aspiring, frankly, to be in the ‘room where it happens,’” Stewart-Cousins said.

Heastie said the diversity of New York’s new leadership sends a message.

“I’m a father of a young 12-year-old daughter,” Heastie said. “I want her to believe that she can do anything in the world, and she won’t be restricted by the fact that she was born a girl.”

Heastie said he’s always had a great relationship with Hochul and looks forward to working with her on priorities like the ongoing pandemic and helping tenants get the assistance they need to remain in their homes.

Neither leader committed to any specific actions or changes, saying the talks with the new governor are just beginning.

Hochul was Cuomo’s chief cheerleader during her six years as lieutenant governor, traveling across New York state to promote his policies, often at several events in one day.

Despite that, Hochul was never part of Cuomo’s inner circle. She was left out of his daily televised COVID-19 briefings during the height of the pandemic.

Hochul said she was unaware of the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo until the women went public with their accusations. She condemned Cuomo after the AG's report.

One day after Cuomo announced his resignation, Hochul promised that she would run the state differently.

“No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” Hochul said in her first public appearance on Aug. 11.

Hochul, who describes herself as someone who listens first, then takes decisive action, will be leading the state’s efforts to grapple with the spread of the delta variant among unvaccinated and younger New Yorkers, including school-aged children.

Earlier this month, Cuomo’s health commissioner failed to provide guidance to schools on health and safety policy. Hochul said she will act swiftly to develop safety protocols; she also said she believes the commissioner has the power to impose mask mandates in school, if necessary.

“Mask mandates is something that the Department of Health has the authority to call for,” Hochul said. “I believe that we will need mask mandates for children to go back to schools, and that will have to be universal, it will be statewide.”

New York’s eviction moratorium runs out on August 31, and the state has been awarded over $2 billion in federal aid to help tenants pay back rent. But a recent report by the state comptroller found that as of mid-August, only $108.8 million has been distributed. Hochul said she will speed up the process but said there is a longer time period for the money to go out and touched on that during the short question and answer session with reporters in the Red Room Tuesday morning. She said she will be assembling a team to expedite the distribution of funds.

“It needs to be in their hands so they can start getting their lives back in order and reducing some of the incredible stress that these families are under,” Hochul said. “It’s absolutely unnecessary.”

Hochul announced two key appointments to her administration — Karen Persichilli Keogh, who worked for former U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and current U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, will be chief of staff. Elizabeth Fine will be chief counsel. Fine will move from her position as counsel to Empire State Development.

Hochul has said there will be “turnover” among Cuomo’s former staff, and anyone implicated in bad behavior in the AG’s report will be out of a job. She’s asking for a 45-day transition period to continue interviewing potential new staff and making final decisions.

Meanwhile, Cuomo, during his final hours in office, made several public appearances, presiding over storm briefings to alert New Yorkers about the potential dangers from tropical storm Henri, and giving a farewell address 12 hours before his planned midnight exit. He used his last speech as governor, in part, to continue to deny the accusations against him, saying the attorney general's report was political instead of factual.

“The attorney general's report was designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic. And it worked. There was a political and media stampede,” Cuomo said. “But the truth will out in time. Of that, I am confident.”

Attorney General Letita James stands by her report, saying the women’s claims were corroborated by a “mountain of evidence."

Cuomo also offered “advice” to his successor on pandemic policy going forward and recounted what he believes were his major accomplishments in office, including renovating major airports and revitalizing Buffalo.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.