Kathy Hochul becomes first woman governor of New York

Former lieutenant governor takes the helm after Andrew Cuomo resigned following sexual harassment allegations

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (R) sworn in as the state's 57th governor. EPA / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
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Kathy Hochul became the first woman governor of New York on Tuesday, vowing to bring new energy and urgency to solving immense challenges as she takes over an administration criticised for inaction during Andrew Cuomo's distracted final months in office.

Ms Hochul, a Democrat and former member of Congress from western New York, took the oath of office a little after midnight in a brief, private event overseen by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore.

At another ceremonial swearing-in Tuesday morning at the New York State Capitol, Ms Hochul promised a “fresh, collaborative approach” in state government.

“I want people to believe in their government again. It’s important to me that people have faith,” she said.

She noted that she'd already begun speaking with other Democratic leaders who have, for years, complained about being shut out of key decisions and bullied by Cuomo, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“There’ll be no blindsiding, there’ll just be full cooperation,” Hochul said.

Over the next few months, Ms Hochul, who was a little-known figure as lieutenant governor, will have an opportunity to reshape the way power works in Albany, where Mr Cuomo dominated decision-making for years before being felled in a sexual harassment scandal.

For generations, it has 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 — Ms Hochul and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — are women. Only the state assembly is led by a man, Speaker Carl Heastie.

Hochul was planning to meet legislative leaders later Tuesday before making a public address at 3pm.

Mr Cuomo left office at 12am, 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 New York Attorney General Letitia James — concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women.

On his final day in office, Mr 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".

Ms Hochul takes over with a state still dealing with 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 favours — as well as distributing federal rent relief money.

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. Thousands face the possibility of eviction if the state allows protections to expire.

Ms Hochul promised on Tuesday to make distributing that money a top priority, saying people should not have to “wait one second longer” for assistance. She also pledged quick action to have money distributed from a new state fund intended to benefit unauthorised immigrants who did not qualify for other types of federal pandemic relief aid.

“The money’s there. These people are not eligible for other forms of assistance and they’re hurting and they're part of the New York family,” Ms Hochul said.

Former governor David Paterson, who, like Ms 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 Governor Hochul, as there was on me, to kind of restore the values and to restore the conduct and the decorum that bespeaks a governor,” Mr Paterson said.

She'll also have to work quickly. Ms Hochul has already said she intends to run for a full term next year, and will have only months to establish herself as the favourite before a spring Democratic primary.

Updated: August 24, 2021, 5:44 PM