New York State

Kathy Hochul meets the press

In her first press conference, the soon-to-be governor aligned herself with Cuomo’s progressive accomplishments, but distanced herself from his managerial style.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses New Yorkers on August 11.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul addresses New Yorkers on August 11. Office of Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

New Yorkers will have to wait 13 days to see their first female governor take power, but Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul showed a little bit of what to expect in her first press conference since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his impending resignation on Tuesday. The biggest differences between the soon-to-be governor and the man she will replace appear to be more about style than substance, with Hochul highlighting her involvement in many of the political successes of the administration she has loyally served for years while distancing herself from the leadership style of the infamously heavy-handed Cuomo. His powerpoint-infused monologues from the Red Room in the state Capitol could sometimes last 45 minutes or more. 

“People will learn that my style is to listen first and then take decisive action,” Hochul told reporters at a 20-minute press conference held inside the Blue Room in the state Capitol. “It’s no secret that (the governor and I) have not been close, (but) I know the job. I have fought for the same policies.”

Increasing the minimum wage, paid family leave, efforts to combat elder abuse and green energy initiatives were some of the specific issues that Hochul highlighted as successes she shared with Cuomo. The “progressive policies” and “legacy of accomplishment” will continue, said Hochul. And like Cuomo – who moved leftwards during his time in office – she is evidently OK changing with the times. "I'm proud of that law," she said of 2019 law allowing undocumented people to get driver’s licenses – an idea that she vocally opposed years ago as Erie County clerk. "Our immigrants need that." There are still several months to go until the a new state budget process and legislative session begin in early 2022, but Hochul is already hinting at how she will approach the nuts and bolts of governance in much the same way as Cuomo.  

While downplaying the potential for disrupting the status quo on policy, Hochul made various claims about how she would be a different type of governor. She hinted at being less domineering of staff and more open to working by consensus with state lawmakers. “No one will ever describe my office as a toxic work environment,” Hochul said. She promised to rid her administration of anyone implicated in a damning report released by Attorney General Letitia James last week that detailed difficult working conditions and sexual harassment within the Cuomo administration. 

Cuomo aides unlikely to serve under a Hochul administration include Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi and Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell, who were both reportedly involved in an effort to release the personnel records of former gubernatorial aide Lindsey Boylan after she accused the governor of sexual harassment last December. Agency heads like Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Office of Children and Family Services Commissioner Sheila Poole – who are among the sitting officials who have criticized Cuomo’s conduct after James released her report – might be able to remain in their current positions under Hochul, who currently oversees a staff much smaller than the governor’s. 

While Hochul promised to “work like hell” for New Yorkers both before and after she becomes governor, she has yet to announce many concrete moves. She said she has been in communication with top leaders including state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. COVID-19 cases are rising, and the current administration has struggled to disperse billions in relief aid for tenants, landlords and undocumented immigrants. Cuomo remains in charge of dealing with those challenges for the time being, Hochul said Wednesday. “I just want to remind everyone that I'm not responsible for the policies,” she said. “I’m still lieutenant governor.” 

She has two weeks to recruit staff and consider which current officials should stay and go. A political agenda has to get developed, and she’s already begun the process of selecting a replacement as lieutenant governor by the time she officially takes power on Aug. 24. Cuomo meanwhile remains in power with unknown intentions. He could lay low and help her prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. It is also entirely possible that Cuomo will use his remaining time in power to maximum advantage, whether for himself, political allies or anyone else. The longer the scandal-plagued governor sticks around though, the longer she might look good by comparison. That would also give Hochul a little more time to figure out how she will really be different from Cuomo in both style and substance.