New York State

How will the Hochul transition work?

There are still a lot of questions about her accession and what happens to Cuomo next, but history may offer some clues.

Current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over as governor of New York.

Current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over as governor of New York. lev radin/Shutterstock

No man in New York relishes his power as much as Gov. Andrew Cuomo does, yet on Tuesday, the three-term governor announced that he would resign from office, relinquishing all the power and influence that go along with it.

The resignation came a week after the release of a report from the office of state Attorney General Letitia James that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, and several days after one of those women filed a criminal complaint against him, alleging that he groped her. In the past seven days, Cuomo’s support has evaporated, with everyone from union leaders to President Joe Biden calling for his resignation.

In announcing his resignation – a surprise to those who expected the stubborn leader to hang on through impeachment – Cuomo set a two-week transition period after which current Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will take over as governor. But a lot of questions need to be answered in the next two weeks and the days that follow – including about how that transition will work and what further consequences Cuomo may face. Here are some of those answers.

When does Cuomo step down and Hochul become governor?

In 14 days, New York will have a new governor. Kathy Hochul, a former member of Congress and the lieutenant governor since 2015, will serve the rest of Cuomo’s current term. In the likely event that she runs for election in 2022, she would be well positioned to hang on to the state’s top job. Hochul, who hails from Western New York, will be the state’s first female governor. It’s unclear why Cuomo will wait a full two weeks to officially step down, but he suggested that the time was necessary to ensure a smooth transition.

While the controversy around Cuomo’s behavior and leadership has swirled, Hochul has already been preparing for the possibility of needing to take over if Cuomo left office – by choice or force – City & State reported earlier this week. “I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down,” Hochul said in a statement on Tuesday. “As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.”

Who takes over as lieutenant governor?

When Hochul’s lieutenant governor post is vacated in two weeks, the duties of the office will fall to state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins – who will still hold on to her post in the Senate – until Hochul appoints someone to serve as lieutenant governor.

The question of whether someone in Hochul’s position can appoint a replacement in the case of a lieutenant governor vacancy arose over a decade ago, after then-Gov. David Paterson had just taken over for former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, and attempted to appoint Richard Ravitch to succeed him as lieutenant governor. The state constitution gave no guidance on how a lieutenant governor vacancy should be filled, prompting a challenge from the state Senate’s Republican leadership when Paterson moved to install Ravitch. But eventually, the state’s highest court affirmed that the governor has the right to appoint a lieutenant governor.

There is still some pushback on this ruling – Republican state Sen. Joseph Griffo has called for Hochul’s lieutenant governor appointee to be subject to legislative approval – but the 2009 ruling is expected to set the precedent for Hochul’s next steps.

Does Hochul have to build an administration from scratch?

It’s one thing to line up a successor in the lieutenant governor’s office, but Hochul now has an entire administration to worry about. At least one key position in the Executive Chamber is already open, and it’s unclear whether all state agency heads under Cuomo will stay on for the remainder of the term. City & State reported earlier this week that Hochul has already had discussions with some agency heads.

One consideration Hochul will have to make in forming her administration – especially in the event that she runs for governor in 2022 – is how closely her people are aligned with Cuomo. “She likely has to build an administration at least from nearly scratch,” Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf told City & State. “She can’t have Cuomo loyalists in there. Why? Because she’d be subject to attack from her opponents.” At the same time, completely clearing house in the Cabinet may not be the wisest move, as the government still needs to function during a transition.

Other members of Cuomo’s administration are already wrapped up in controversy and may face their own challenges to stay in state government. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has been criticized over a lack of clarity about the return to school amid the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19, and the leader of the New York State Association of Counties mentioned to Gannett Albany the group’s desire to avoid “a vote of no confidence in the health commissioner.”

What will happen to the Assembly’s impeachment inquiry?

Cuomo’s resignation answered the calls of those who have been pushing for him to step down, but it’s still possible that Cuomo and his staff could face further consequences. On both ends of the political spectrum, some lawmakers are still calling for the Assembly’s wide-ranging impeachment inquiry of Cuomo to proceed. The inquiry goes further than just examining the allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo; it is also meant to look into the state’s handling of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and the use of state resources in producing Cuomo’s book, among other issues.

Assembly leaders did not say much about the future of the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Lavine releasing statements that didn’t reference impeachment. But Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said it’s possible the process could still proceed and Judiciary Committee Member Thomas Abinanti said the committee has an obligation to release a report on its findings. The committee’s ranking Republican, Assembly Member Michael Montesano, has said he wants the impeachment process to continue.

Is Cuomo gone for good?

In resigning, Cuomo doesn’t automatically give up his ability to run for state office in the future. Although the odds would be stacked against him in any future race, New York has been known to allow a political comeback or two.

Some lawmakers, advocates and political organizers are already pushing to bar Cuomo from running for office in the future – something that appears to be a possibility under a conviction by the state Senate. “Resignation is not accountability, and we urge the legislature to continue with impeachment proceedings so that Andrew Cuomo is never again elevated to a position of power,” Sochie Nnaemeka, New York state director of the Working Families Party, said in a statement.