New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her first remarks since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he’s resigning, said Wednesday that she intends to be a fighter for New York.
She also acknowledged that there will be turnover in what is now a tainted administration after the state’s attorney general found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, and that key staff members were complicit in some retaliatory actions against an accuser.
Hochul said she believes that it was appropriate for Cuomo to step down. She said she spoke to the governor for the first time in over six months, and he “pledged his full support” for a smooth transition.
She said she’s ready to take over as the state’s first female governor on Aug. 24.
“It’s not something we expected or asked for, but I am fully prepared to assume the responsibilities as the 57th governor of the state of New York,” Hochul told a packed room of reporters.
Hochul said her style as chief executive will be to listen first and then take decisive action, a contrast to the top-down, hard-charging style that Cuomo employs. But she said that doesn’t mean she will be complacent.
“The promise I make to all New Yorkers, right here and right now: I will fight like hell for you every single day,” she said.
Hochul said she intends to continue with many of the Cuomo administration’s key policies and programs, including the $15-an-hour minimum wage, paid family leave, and ongoing economic development projects. But one tradition that will not continue, she said, is the workplace atmosphere of bullying and intimidation outlined in the attorney general's report.
“At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” she said.
Hochul was hesitant to outline a new agenda because she won’t become governor for 13 days. She also would not reveal who she might pick as her lieutenant governor but said she's considering a number of individuals, hinting they might come from the downstate area to balance her Buffalo origins.
Commenting on the staff turnover when she takes over, she said several top aides to Cuomo who were identified as acting unethically in the attorney general's report will not keep their jobs.
Hochul will inherit a number of big challenges, including rising COVID-19 rates due to the delta variant, and the state’s stagnating vaccination rate. She would not rule out reissuing a state of emergency to deal with the pandemic or issuing mask mandates, saying “all options are on the table.” But she said she intends to work first to convince more New Yorkers to get the vaccine.
“I think the answer is very simple,” Hochul said. “More people being vaccinated is our key out of this.”
Hochul plans to target communities with low vaccination and high infection rates to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
Even when Hochul becomes governor, Cuomo is not likely to fade from the news cycle any time soon. He still faces a criminal complaint from accuser Brittany Commisso, and the Albany County Sheriff is continuing to investigate the claim.
There’s an ongoing federal investigation into whether he and top aides concealed the true number of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Also, the state Assembly had not curtailed its impeachment inquiry, even though the governor is leaving. When asked about whether the impeachment inquiry should go forward, Hochul said she won’t dictate to the Legislature how they should conduct their business.