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Kathy Hochul set to address NY as incoming governor. What to expect

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ALBANY – Incoming Gov. Kathy Hochul declared herself ready to take over as the state’s chief executive, vowing to fight for New York residents and maintain a workplace environment that will never be described as “toxic.”

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Hochul, the state’s lieutenant governor, delivered a brief address Wednesday before taking questions from reporters. It was her first public appearance since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday he would resign amid an ongoing sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed his administration.

A Buffalo Democrat, Hochul will officially take office Aug. 24 after Cuomo said he would resign in 14 days. Her ascension will be historic: Hochul will be New York’s first woman governor.

“The promise I make to all New Yorkers, right here and right now: I will fight like hell for you every single day, like I’ve always done and always will,” Hochul said.

Hochul, speaking for about 20 minutes, said she spoke Tuesday to Cuomo, who pledged his support for an orderly transition.

She said Cuomo’s two-week grace period was not her decision, but she pledged to use the time to make key hirings for senior staff members and state commissioners. 

Hochul to name a second in command

Hochul said she intends to appoint a new lieutenant governor, suggesting she will pick a diverse candidate who is well known to New Yorkers. And she said she will not retain any member of Cuomo’s administration who was found to have acted unethically.

An Aug. 3 report from Attorney General Letitia James’ office concluded Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, including nine current or former state employees. The report also found Cuomo maintained a toxic workplace environment and faulted some members of Cuomo’s staff for retaliating against an accuser by circulating her personnel files.

“No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” she said.

She said she was unaware of the allegations prior to the report and declined to say whether the Assembly Judiciary Committee should continue its impeachment investigation into Cuomo, saying it is up to the Legislature.

Hochul, 62, has been lieutenant governor since 2015. In her role, she criss-crossed the state touting Cuomo’s agenda. But she and Cuomo were never believed to be close: She was not among his close advisers, and did not have a seat at the table during his daily coronavirus briefings.

“I think it’s pretty clear the governor and I have not been close, physically or otherwise,” she said.

Hochul lives in Buffalo and will also be the first governor from outside the New York City area since Nathan Miller of Cortland County was elected in 1920.

She will take over at a tumultuous time, trying to rebuild relationships with the Legislature that were in tatters with Cuomo and guide the state through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

She said she spoke with state leaders, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, and has yet to connect with President Joe Biden, who she said had reached out.

More: Cuomo will resign in two weeks. How will the transition work?

Taking over for Cuomo

Cuomo offered his support for his successor as he faces various investigations even when he leaves.

“Kathy Hochul, my lieutenant governor, is smart and competent,” he said in his resignation speech Tuesday.

“This transition must be seamless. We have a lot going on. I’m very worried about the Delta variant, and so should you be. But she can come up to speed quickly. And my resignation will be effective in 14 days.”

Hochul is the former Erie County clerk who went on to serve a brief stint in Congress in western New York, winning a special election in 2011 but losing a year later when the districts was redrawn to make it more Republican heavy.

She positioned herself as a moderate Democrat in Congress, picking up the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and previously leading the charge in 2007 against then Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s effort to allow driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

She has since supported the license measure, but she will face questions about her policy positions, particularly as the Democratic-led Legislature has increasingly moved to the left.

And her husband, William, a former federal prosecutor, is an executive with Delaware North, the Buffalo-based hospitality company that has business with the state.

Hochul’s time in office will quickly move to politics: If she wants a full term, she would need to run next year — first likely in a Democratic primary in June and then if she wins next November for a full four-year term.

But she’ll enter office with what appears to be the full support of political leaders, who offered her praise and noted they look forward to a fresh start from the scandal-plagued Cuomo.

“Working with Governor Kathy Hochul, the first woman governor of New York State, we will continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild our economy and face our challenges standing together,” Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement.

“Governor Hochul is a dedicated leader, and united, we will get the people’s work done.”

Kathy Hochul: 5 things to know about NY’s next governor after Cuomo resigns

How do you pronounce Hochul?: Here’s the trick NY’s incoming governor uses

Jon Campbell is the New York State Team editor for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at JCAMPBELL1@Gannett.com or on Twitter at @JonCampbellGAN.

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