ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Kathy Hochul became the first female governor of New York at the stroke of midnight Tuesday, taking control of a state government desperate to get back to business after months of distractions over complaints that her predecessor abused his power and sexually harassed female employees.
Hochul, a 62-year-old Democrat from Buffalo, was expected to deliver remarks and be sworn-in Tuesday in Albany for her 16-month term.
She has vowed to move the state past the “distractions” marked by the final months of Andrew Cuomo’s tenure, who long defied calls for his resignation from a majority of elected New York Democrats until the threat of impeachment became real.
Hochul, who said she wasn’t aware of sexual harassment allegations and didn’t work closely with Cuomo, has promised no one will ever call her workplace “toxic.”
Hochul has spent the past two weeks meeting with state and local officials preparing to lead an administration facing scathing criticism for inaction in the distracted final months of Cuomo’s term: from sending out COVID-19 rental aid too slowly, to failing to mandate masks at schools as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge, to slow-walking the legalization of recreational marijuana sales to adults.
Left-leaning advocates and lawmakers want to extend New York’s eviction moratorium beyond Aug. 31. Landlord groups say New York must get the money out the door instead of loading tenants and landlords with more debt.
Last week, Hochul said the state can mandate masks at schools once she’s governor — a contrast with Cuomo, who’s said he lacks that authority.
And she’s called legalization of pot sales “long overdue” and cheered estimates of $300 million in eventual annual revenue.
Cuomo, 63, delivered his resignation letter without fanfare Monday, and his future plans are unclear.
Hochul lost reelection to Congress in 2012 and ran in 2014 as running mate for Cuomo, who long delivered wins with support from moderate and left-leaning New Yorkers.
Hochul says she’ll pick a New York City Democrat as lieutenant governor, and plans to run for governor herself in 2022.
Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs praised Hochul as a “formidable” candidate.
Hochul is also expected to detail how she’ll prevent any conflict of interest from her husband’s job as general counsel for Buffalo-based Delaware North since 2016. The company operates New York casinos, and lobbied state officials for the recent passage of mobile sports betting.
Delaware North also has $49 million worth of concessions contracts with the state thruway authority and a state park, and runs concessions at Buffalo Bills’ Highmark stadium. The Bills want taxpayers to help cover a $1.4 billion new stadium. Delaware North spokesperson Glen White said the company’s not involved in talks with state officials.
Watchdog groups say Hochul’s husband should step down to prevent perception of conflict of interest.
White said Brian’s “been extremely careful not to have any direct interaction” in New York matters.
Hochul is the state’s 57th governor. She’s also the second to take over for a governor who resigned amid scandal: David Paterson took over in 2008 for Eliot Spitzer, who resigned over a prostitution scandal.
Cuomo has touted his record of passing same sex marriage, paid family leave, gun control and an eventual statewide $15 minimum wage.
But his political support collapsed in the wake of an independent investigation overseen by the attorney general’s office that found Cuomo sexually harassed at least 11 women, including a state trooper on his security detail and an executive assistant who said he groped her in his official residence.
Hochul has said she’ll sign an executive order to keep current employees for 45 days while she interviews potential hires. But she’s vowed not to keep anyone found to have behaved unethically in the investigation, which found Cuomo staff unlawfully retaliated against a former aide once she said Cuomo sexually harassed her. Cuomo denies that he touched anyone inappropriately.
Cuomo faces potential criminal investigations for touching women without their consent, and state and federal probes for minimizing the COVID-19 death toll among nursing home residents and using state resources to write a $5 million COVID-19 leadership book deal amid the pandemic.
The new governor will decide whether to keep paying for lawyers to defend Cuomo’s administration in those probes.