NEW YORK NOW – Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who will be sworn in as acting governor in two weeks, told reporters Wednesday that she’ll “fight like hell” for New Yorkers while she’s in office, and will shake up state government in a big way during her tenure.
“The promise I make to all New Yorkers right here, right now. I will fight like hell for you every single day, like I’ve always done, and always will,” Hochul said.
That was the theme of her first public remarks since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation Tuesday over multiple claims of sexual harassment that were found to be credible in a report issued by the New Attorney General’s Office last week.
Cuomo has denied the claims, and said he never touched anyone inappropriately, and didn’t know his remarks to some of his staff were offensive at the time.
Hochul said her administration would operate differently than her soon-to-be predecessor’s after the report identified a toxic work culture that opened the door to both sexual and verbal harassment from Cuomo and his inner circle.
That will include new staff, Hochul said, after the report showed that a handful of Cuomo’s top aides were involved in trying to discredit the women who accused him of harassment.
“No one who’s been named as doing anything unethical in the report will remain in my administration,” Hochul said. “At the end of my term, whenever it is, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.”
Hochul said she wasn’t aware of any of the allegations included in the attorney general’s report before they came to light in the press, and on social media.
She struck a different tone than Cuomo, who’s been known by reporters in Albany as someone who’s often hostile toward members of the press when he’s asked uncomfortable questions. That didn’t happen with Hochul.
When asked why she changed her position on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, Hochul said she’d evolved on the issue since she opposed it as Erie County Clerk. Her position had changed by the time the Legislature approved it in 2019.
“I had taken a position that has now evolved,” Hochul said. “Immigrants need that. They wouldn’t be able to get to their jobs, parents need to take their kids to doctor appointments, and I’m proud to support that law.”
Hochul also said her strategy as acting governor would be one of careful deliberation after consulting with residents and experts — and that she’s more than ready to step in.
“I want people to know that I’m ready for this. Not something we expected or asked for, but I’m fully prepared,” Hochul said.
Since she took office as the state’s second-highest ranking elected official in 2015, Hochul has tirelessly criss-crossed the state, entering communities rarely visited by the three-term governor, like the North Country.
As head of the state’s Regional Economic Development Councils, she’s also been actively involved in developing regional strategies to give communities a boost where they need them. And Hochul has been to no shortage of public events in support of several issues.
“I’ll do what I’ve always done,” Hochul said. “I will travel the state to meet New Yorkers to listen to them, to assure them that I’ve got their backs.”
But as she becomes the state’s 57th governor, and the first woman to serve in the position, Hochul will also have to confront several challenges felt by New York residents, like the ongoing spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
Hochul’s message on the pandemic lined up with Cuomo’s position: that the best strategy to defeat the virus will be to get more individuals vaccinated. Aside from that, Hochul said she’ll use the state’s full resources, including health experts, to develop a strategy.
“All options are on the table,” Hochul said. “I’ll be looking very closely at the trends in consultation with our healthcare professionals as well as the CDC.”
With Hochul taking office in two weeks, there’s also the lingering question of who she’ll choose as her temporary successor.
Because of court precedent, Hochul will be allowed to appoint her own lieutenant governor, rather than having the position temporary filled by the majority leader of the State Senate. Former Gov. David Paterson did the same after he took office.
When asked if she had anyone in mind for the job, Hochul simply gave a shrug and said she didn’t have a preference of where that person should be from for now. But she said she knew there had to be balance.
“I love upstate. I love downstate,” Hochul said. “I love the whole state and there so many qualified individuals but I’m cognizant of the need for diversity and an inclusive ticket and I’m going to name someone that I believe the state will be familiar with and be very proud of.”
Hochul said she expects to make that decision sometime in the next two weeks.