After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from his office Tuesday over a sexual harassment scandal, mainstream media cheered on his replacement: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. Lauded as the first woman to serve as the Empire State’s governor, the 62-year-old will succeed the office in two weeks when Cuomo officially leaves on August 24.
Hochul was raised as a self-described “blue-collar Irish Catholic family in Buffalo,” who had aspirations of public service and activism at an early age. During her high school years, she would ride the bus in the summertime down to the Democrat Party headquarters in Buffalo. After earning her B.A. from Syracuse University in 1980, she headed to law school and received her J.D. from Catholic University of America in 1983. Finding corporate law unfulfilling, Hochul moved on to working as a legal counsel to Rep. John LeFalce and then later as legislative assistant to Sen. Pat Moynihan’s office.
Throughout the following years Hochul took time off to be with her two children, returning to the workforce in the 90’s for politics. She worked on the town board in a town near Buffalo from 1994 to 2007. During that time, she served as Erie County Clerk David Swarts’ deputy in 2003, finishing his term in 2010 after he resigned in 2007.
Later on, Hochul won a special House election after flipping a normally red district blue in 2011. She beat Republican State Assemblywoman Jane Corwin on preserving the cause of Medicare. After losing a reelection bid in 2012, Hochul worked as vice president at M&T Bank before being selected by Cuomo in 2014 as his running mate.
During her time as lieutenant governor, Hochul worked quietly behind the scenes. Even though Hochul may describe herself as an “independent Democrat,” the policies she has supported in the past are progressive. As an advocate for abortion, Hochul was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2012. During her and Cuomo’s reelection in 2018, she ran an ad condemning her opponent Jumaane Williams’ more conservative stance on abortion, saying that “New York needs leaders who are 100 percent personally committed to pass pro-choice laws to protect New York from Trump. Gov. Cuomo and I always have been and always will be.”
Once against allowing illegal immigrants driver’s licenses in 2007, Hochul changed her tune in 2018 when she criticized a county clerk for doing just that. She even claimed NY farmers were “clamoring” for illegal immigrants to have driver’s licenses. Hochul was also appointed in 2015 as head of Cuomo’s “Enough Is Enough” campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses. The initiative required NY colleges to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent and statewide amnesty policy, which protects accusers from additional campus violation charges.
As Hochul assumes office, some worry over a potential conflict of interest. Her husband, William J. Hochul Jr., a longtime federal prosecutor, is senior vice president of Delaware North, a hospitality company in Buffalo. The firm has various operations in New York that involve state authority oversight, which could cause a problem with Hochul as governor of the state.
Robert Galbraith, senior research analyst at the Public Accountability Initiative, said, “The decision to carry this blatant conflict of interest into the Governor’s Office is an ignominious start for Kathy Hochul’s administration.”
Hochul doubled down on her previous condemnation of Cuomo’s sexual harassment allegations in a Wednesday press conference. She assured her new constituents that “no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.” Hochul concluded, “The promise I make to all New Yorkers right here and right now, I will fight like hell for you every single day, like I’ve always done and always will.”
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