When New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul takes over as governor in two weeks, it won’t be the first time she’s entered high office by replacing a man who behaved badly.
Hochul will become New York’s first female governor on Aug. 24 with the departure of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat who resigned from his position on Tuesday. The move came one week after state Attorney General Letitia James released a report that found he sexually harassed 11 women, including staffers and others who did not work for his administration.
Hochul won a House seat in Western New York a decade ago after GOP Rep. Chris Lee resigned over reports he had solicited a woman on Craigslist, including sending a shirtless photo. Hochul won an upset victory in the May 2011 special election, a badly needed morale boost for House Democrats after losing their House majority six months earlier.
The cheer was short-lived, as Hochul lost her 2012 reelection bid against Erie County executive and businessman Chris Collins (who in 2019 pleaded guilty to insider trading and making false statements and was then pardoned by President Donald Trump).
But Hochul built enough of a political profile statewide that, in 2014, Cuomo selected her as his running mate when he sought a second four-year term. The pair won easily, and Hochul became lieutenant governor on Jan. 1, 2015.
But as often happens with governors and their understudies, even of the same party, relations were never close. The imperious Cuomo was loath to cede the spotlight and froze Hochul out of his inner circle. Hochul largely focused on economic development issues around the state, visiting all of New York’s 62 counties multiple times. When Cuomo’s sex scandals hit earlier this year, she said nary a word in his defense. The pair reportedly hadn’t spoken in months.
Hochul did fall in line with Cuomo on one major issue in 2018, saying she supported legislation to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. She had opposed that position in 2007 as Erie County clerk in 2007, going so far as to say she would seek to have any such applicants arrested.
And while Andrew Cuomo cut a figure as an aggressive New York City-area pol, as the son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a liberal icon, Hochul hails from the opposite end of the state. She grew up in a working-class family of Irish American Catholics in Buffalo. Hochul, a Syracuse University graduate, earned a law degree at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She then worked as a legal counsel and legislative assistant to Rep. John LaFalce, a Democrat who represented the Buffalo area in the House for 28 years, and Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Hochul was elected to the Hamburg Town Board in 1994 and appointed Erie County clerk a dozen years later. She is married to Bill Hochul, who was a U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York from 2010 to 2016, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Now, Hochul is set to assume New York’s highest statewide office, and one of the most prominent political roles in the country, under strained circumstances. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had repeatedly insisted that he would not resign and apologized to his accusers while denying any inappropriate behavior.But facing impeachment by the New York Assembly and his likely conviction and removal by the state Senate and jurists, Cuomo relented.
Hochul will be in familiar territory replacing a scandal-tarred incumbent, if on a larger stage than when she took office in Washington a decade ago.