5 things to know about New York’s next governor

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Kathy Hochul will soon find herself as the first female governor in New York state history after an abrupt end to the three-term tenure of embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo.


Cuomo on Tuesday announced he would step down, with his resignation taking effect in 14 days, clearing the way or Hochul to be elevated to the governor’s office.

Since 2015, Hochul, 62, has been lieutenant governor. Her job was largely to represent the governor at functions around New York and lead initiatives and campaigns related to the state agenda. 

Her political career shows she is not to be underestimated, and her allies have long believed she was ready to take on the role of governor should the circumstance arise. 

Here are five things to know about Hochul and her background. 

1. Kathy Hochul is a Buffalo native 

Hochul was born and raised in the Buffalo area and was one of six children born to a working class Irish Catholic family. Her father was an immigrant and steel worker who took college classes at night and started his married life living in a trailer, according to a Father’s Day note Hochul posted on Facebook in 2019. 

As a teenager, she developed a passion for activism which continued into her college years at Syracuse University, where she led a boycott against the college bookstore because of its high prices and campaigned for the university to name a new arena after Ernie Davis, the renowned Syracuse football player who died of leukemia. The arena eventually became the Carrier Dome. 

After law school and her first law-firm job in Washington, she worked for several Senators from New York on Capitol Hill. In the early 1990s, she and her husband, William Hochul, a lawyer who eventually served as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, returned to the Buffalo area to raise their children. 

It was there where she started her rise to political notoriety. 

2. Hochul got her political start on a town board

Hochul spent more than a decade on the Hamburg Town Board, a town outside of Buffalo, where she strongly advocated for the removal of New York state Thruway toll booths within “commuting distance” of Buffalo, according to a 1998 Buffalo News story. 

She was elected as Erie County Clerk in 2007, a role she held for four years. She drew attention there for opposing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants if they couldn’t produce a Social Security card. 

After becoming Lieutenant Governor, Hochul said in 2018 that she had changed her position on that matter after understanding farmers’ desire for their workers to be licensed, according to a WGRZ story at the time. 

3. Hochul landed a Congressional seat in an upset win 

In 2011, Hochul ran in a special election for a congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district encompassing much of the area between Buffalo and Rochester following the abrupt resignation of Republican Rep. Chris Lee. 

Republican Jane Corwin was initially heavily favored to win, but Hochul pulled off an upset victory by attaching Corwin to a controversial Republican proposal to overhaul Medicare. 

She won by 47% of the vote to Corwin’s 43%, with third party candidates taking a total of 10% of the vote. 

She served in the seat until 2012, when she lost to Republican Chris Collins after the district was redrawn and renamed the 27th congressional District.

4. Hochul has defined herself as an ‘independent Democrat’ 

In past campaigns, Hochul has highlighted her ability to lead and fight for her constituents outside of political party lines. 

As a Democrat, she was endorsed by the National Rifle Association during her 2011 run for Congress, and, while in the political eye, opposed notable proposals from Democratic governors Eliot Spitzer, on licenses for undocumented immigrants, and David Paterson, on requiring New Yorkers to buy license plates to raise state revenue. 

Since then, New York did legalize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in 2019 — while Hochul was lieutenant governor. At that time, she pledged support for the initiative.

5. Hochul champions women, and fought against sexual violence and harassment  

In 2006, Hochul partnered with her mother and aunt in establishing the Kathleen Mary House, a transitional home for victims of domestic violence, and has spoken out about her grandmother being a domestic violence survivor. 

As lieutenant governor under Cuomo in 2015, Hochul toured the state touting the “Enough is Enough” sexual assault prevention program on college campuses, which required schools to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, provided amnesty to students if they reported sexual assault on campus and expanded student access to law enforcement. 

When women began coming forward earlier this year with allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo, Hochul kept her head down, releasing very few comments and conducting business as usual in her role. 

But in August, Hochul issued a statement decrying the governor’s alleged conduct, following the release of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report detailing the credible accounts of 11 women who say Cuomo sexually harassed them. 

“The AG’s investigation has documented repulsive & unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women,” Hochul said. “Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. No one is above the law.” 

She noted at the time that because she was next in the line of succession to the governorship, it would not be appropriate to comment further, but said she believed “these brave women” and admired their courage to come forward. 

More: NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo to resign amid scandal; Kathy Hochul to become governor

Sarah Taddeo is an enterprise reporter for USA Today Network’s New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.

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