ALBANY (AP) — Kathy Hochul became the first female governor of New York on Tuesday, inheriting immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction during Andrew Cuomo’s distracted final months in office.
Hochul, a Democrat and former member of Congress from Western New York, took the oath of office just after midnight in a brief, private event overseen by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore.
A ceremonial swearing-in was planned Tuesday morning at the New York State Capitol, with more pomp than the brief, legally required event during the night. Hochul planned a public address at 3 p.m.
“I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders and I’ll tell New Yorkers I’m up to the task. And I’m really proud to be able to serve as their governor and I won’t let them down,” Hochul told one of her hometown Buffalo television stations, WGRZ, as she left the Capitol early Tuesday morning.
Over the next few months, Hochul, who was a little-known figure as lieutenant governor, will have an opportunity to reshape the way power works in Albany, where Cuomo dominated decision-making for years before being felled in a sexual harassment scandal.
For generations, it’s been said that all of the real decisions in the state government were made by “three men in a room,” the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly.
Now, for the first time in state history, two of those three — Hochul and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — are women. Only the state Assembly is led by a man, Speaker Carl Heastie.
Cuomo left office at 12:00 a.m, two weeks after he announced he would resign rather than face an impeachment battle that seemed inevitable after a report by independent investigators, overseen by Attorney General Letitia James, concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women.
On his final day in office, Cuomo released a pre-recorded farewell address in which he again said he was innocent and portrayed himself as the victim of a “media frenzy.”
Hochul takes over with the state still dealing with rolling crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In the coming weeks she is expected to make decisions about whether to mandate masks for children returning to school — something she’s already said she favors.
She will be under pressure to get federal rent relief money into the hands of tenants. Little of the $2 billion set aside by the federal government to help New Yorkers pay off rent debt has been distributed to date in the state and thousands face the possibility of eviction if the state allows protections to expire.
And Hochul faces questions about whether she’ll change the culture of governance in New York, where many other top Democrats have, for years, complained about being shut out of key decisions and bullied by Cuomo.
Former Gov. David Paterson, who, like Hochul, unexpectedly became governor when his predecessor resigned, said she will need to restore faith in the office.
“There’s going to be some pressure on Gov. Hochul, as there was on me, to kind of restore the values and to restore the conduct and the decorum that bespeaks a governor,” Paterson said.
She’ll also have to work quickly. Hochul has already said she intends to run for a full term next year, and will have just months to establish herself as the favorite before a spring Democratic primary.
In the meantime, she’ll be building an administration — a task that began early Tuesday with the oath of office.
DiFiore administered the oath in front of a stone fireplace in a room at the Capitol, atop which were placed family pictures.
Hochul, her husband, Bill Hochul, and DiFiore entered the room wearing masks, taking them off when the ceremony began. Hochul placed her hand on a bible held by her smiling husband, a former federal prosecutor and current general counsel for Buffalo-based food service and hospitality company Delaware North.
Hochul signed a pile of papers — including the oath — using a set of ten pens dated “August 24, 2021,” while her family stood behind her looking on. She then said thank to her individual members of her staff, and told them she’d see them tomorrow before she left the room.