Who Is Kathy Hochul, The Soon – To – Be First Female Governor Of New York?

During a press conference on Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo resigned as the governor of New York following multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him. The report, the result of a five – month independent investigation from New York State Attorney General Letitia James, detailed Cuomo’s unwanted touching and inappropriate comments of 11 women (including nine current and former female state employees). It also contained previously unreported accusations (including one from a state trooper assigned to Cuomo’s security detail) as well as evidence that Cuomo and members of his staff attempt to retaliate against one of his accusers.

Cuomo defended himself against the allegations even as he resigned from office, claiming that he had never intentionally made anyone feel uncomfortable. ‘The best way I can help is if I step aside and let government get back to the governing’, he said. Now the attention is tuning toward his replacement, New York’s Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul, who will make history as the state’s first female governor – and one who has advocated for women’s health and safety.

Hochul condemned Cuomo’s behavior in a statement immediately after the report was made public. ‘The attorney general’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the governor towards multiple women‘, she said. ‘I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward’.

Who is the woman succeeding Cuomo? To say that Hochul has kept a low profile during her six – plus years as Cuomo’s deputy is an understatement. The 62 – year – old Buffalo native is rarely quoted in the press, was a quiet presence on the 2018 campaign trail, and when the New York Times proclaimed on November that year that Cuomo has easily elected to his third term as governor, Kirsten Gillibrand to her second full team as U.S. senator, and Letitia James to her first as attorney general, the fact that Hochul has been reelected as the state’s lieutenant governor went completely unmentioned.

An Early Start In Politics

After earning her B.A. from Syracuse University in 1980 and a J.D. from Catholic University four year later, Hochul began her political career as a legal counsel and legislative assistant to New York Representative John LeFalce, and then as a senatorial aide to the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a powerful force in New York politics for more than four decades. In 1994, she was elected to the Hamburg Town Board, in New York’s Erie County, just south of Buffalo, where she served until she was appointed the Erie County Clerk in 2007.

A Win, Followed By A Loss

In 2011, Hochul won a special election for Congress, flipping a traditionally Republican seat in upstate New York and raising her political profile among fellow Democrats, including the vice president Joe Biden, who called to offer his congratulations. (The seat became vacant when Representative Christopher Lee resigned after he e-mailed a shirtless photo of himself to a woman and it was published on the internet, per the Times.) But that prominence was short – lived. In the 2012 general election, running in a redrawn district that become even more conservative, she lost her seat in the House of Representatives to Chris Collins, the former Erie County executive. (In 2019, Collins pleaded guilty to insider trading and ultimately resigned).

Bringing Diversity To The Cuomo Ticket

In 2014, when Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy, a former mayor of Rochester, decided to retire and not seek a second term, Cuomo tapped Hochul as his running mate. Facing a potentially tough reelection race against Republican Rob Astorino, the Wetchester County executive, Cuomo seemed eager to share up his base in western New York – and despite her loss two years later, Houchul seemed like the best candidate to help him. Plus, with the rest of the Democratic statewide slate (governor, attorney general, and comptroller), all being filled by white men from New York City, Cuomo was likely aware of the diversity, in both gender and geography, that Hochul would bring to the ticket. The two that November with 54% of the vote.

In 2018, A Challenge From The Left

Four years later, Hochul’s vid for reelection was challenged by a progressive candidate in the Democratic primary, Jumaane Williams, a three – term New York City councilman. Hochul beat back the challenge from Williams, now the public advocate for New York City, but not before the New York Times floated the rumor that Cuomo had tried to ‘nudge’ Hochul off the ticket by encouraging her to run for her old congressional seat. (Meanwhile, Cuomo was fending off his own primary challenge from the left: a spirited run by the actor Cynthia Nixon). In the end, Hochul stayed on the ticket, and the two won handily in November, with almost a two – to – one margin over their Republican opponents.

Support For The ‘Enough Is Enough’ Law

As lieutenant governor, Hochul has been a proponent for women’s health and safety, including the state’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ legislation, aimed at fighting sexual assault on college campuses and requiring colleges in the state ‘to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent, defined as knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity’. (In 2006, Hochul, along with her mother and aunt, established the Kathleen Mary House, a transitional home in suburban Buffalo for victims of domestic violence). After the second allegation against Governor Cuomo surfaced, Hochul released a brief statement, saying, ‘Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously. I support an independent review’.

Waiting In The Wings?

Reports out of Albany these past six years seem to make clear that Hochul is not part of Cuomo’s inner circle and many not have much legislative sway. But, as the Times noted in that 2018 article about Hochul’s victory over Williams, the lieutenant governor’s position, while largely ceremonial, is not without some consequence. As the paper noted, the role ‘does put Ms. Hochul next in line to governor. In 2008, David Paterson, the lieutenant guvernor, took over when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal’. Paterson’s ascension was a historic moment; he became the fist Black governor of New York, another scandal in the governor’s office could create a similarly groundbreaking moment.