New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul vowed to clean up the governor’s office in her first appearance since Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sudden announcement he is resigning in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, elevating the Western New York native to the highest office in the state.
“Regarding his decision to step down, I believe it is appropriate and in the best interests of the state of New York,” Hochul said Wednesday during a press conference in Albany. “While it was not expected, it is a day for which I am prepared.”
Cuomo announced he was resigning after last week’s damning report from state Attorney General Letitia James’s office of sexual harassment allegations from 11 women, mounting pressure from lawmakers and allies, and looming impeachment proceedings. He said Tuesday he would leave office in 14 days, a timeline that Hochul acknowledged was not her choice.
“It’s not what I asked for,” Hochul said, adding, “he spoke to me about wanting to make sure that the transition to continuity is important, that I have an opportunity to meet the Cabinet officials and other people as well, so they viewed it as necessary.”
“It’s not something we expected or asked for, but I am fully prepared to assume the responsibilities as the 57th governor of the state of New York.”
— NY Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul pic.twitter.com/wWsQigzoov
— The Recount (@therecount) August 11, 2021
It was not immediately clear why Hochul, who was selected as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor in 2014, has to meet the Cabinet. She noted that Cuomo will remain in office for the next 13 days before she becomes New York’s first female governor.
Hochul sought to distance herself from Cuomo, who reportedly had not talked to her since February until he decided to step down Tuesday.
“I think it’s very clear that the Governor and I have not been close, physically or otherwise,” she said. “I’ve been traveling the state and do not spend much time in his presence or in the presence of many in the state capitol.”
Hochul disavowed knowledge of the actions described in the state Attorney General’s investigation that Cuomo regularly engaged in “unwelcome and nonconsensual touching” of the women named in the report, and said she would not comment on possible impeachment proceedings.
“I was not aware of any of the allegations whatsoever in the report,” Hochul said. “The report stands on its own, and I’ve been in this business long enough to know that it’s not the purview of the New York State Governor to dictate to the New York State Assembly, or to the Judiciary Committee on what actions they should take next with respect to anything, particularly impeachment.”
Still, Hochul vowed to tackle the “toxic” atmosphere in Albany, and promised “there will be turnover” in terms of laying off staffers who were named in the Attorney General’s report as enablers for Cuomo’s alleged behavior.
“No one who was named as doing anything unethical in the report will remain in my administration,” Hochul said.
When asked if she would pardon Cuomo if he were ultimately charged and convicted after a criminal complaint filed by a former assistant who said he groped her, Hochul said, “it is far too premature to have those conversations.”
Hochul’s political history came under scrutiny. When New York lawmakers considered a Green Light law in 2007 to grant drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants, Hochul—who was Erie County Clerk at the time— threatened to turn over to federal border security officers the names of any undocumented immigrants who applied for a driver’s license in one of the DMV offices in the county.
“I had taken a position that has now evolved,” Hochul said of her previous stance Wednesday. “And that evolution coincides with the evolution of many people in the state of New York. I’m proud of that law,” she said, adding “our immigrants need that. They need to be able to get to their jobs and parents need to take their kids to doctor’s appointments, and I’m proud of supporting that law.” Hochul didn’t answer a question about mask mandates for schools reopening in a few weeks, though she said she would ramp up vaccination efforts throughout the state.
Hochul said she hadn’t talked to President Joe Biden yet, though she spoke with Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand as well as former Senator Hillary Clinton. She expects to name her replacement as lieutenant governor shortly.
Though she disavowed Cuomo, Hochul also praised the scope of the administration’s work.
“Many people have supported the policies of the Cuomo administration,” she said. “There is a strong legacy of accomplishment.”