Appearing upbeat and confident, governor-in-waiting Kathy Hochul said she’s ready to assume leadership of the state in less than two weeks when Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid a barrage of sexual harassment allegations takes effect.
During a press conference Wednesday, Hochul’s first remarks since Cuomo announced his resignation on the heels of a damning state attorney general report, the lieutenant governor distanced herself from what was described in the AG report as a “toxic” working environment in the executive chamber.
“I think it’s very clear that the governor and I have not been close, physically or otherwise,” Hochul said. “And so 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.
“But that is what has been reported,” she said of the work environment. “And I want to stand right here, at the end of my term, whenever it ends. No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.”
Hochul is a former congresswoman from the Buffalo-area who has served as lieutenant governor since 2015.
As governor, Hochul said her immediate focus would be battling the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding the state.
Hochul is to be installed on Aug. 24 as the state’s 57th governor. She will also be the first woman in the state to assume that role.
The former lawyer added it was too early to speak about potential charges Cuomo might face, and she expects to announce her choice for lieutenant governor within the next two weeks.
In the AG report, several members of the governor’s staff were implicated in trying to discredit women who accused him of sexual harassment.
Hochul said her administration would terminate anyone named in the report as doing anything unethical.
She also pledged the ouster of anyone who fostered what was said to be a toxic working environment in the executive chamber.
Hochul said Cuomo gave his support for a smooth transition when they spoke Tuesday, and she thanked him for his service to the state.
Of his resignation, she said: “I believe it is appropriate, and in the best interest of the state of New York.”
“And while it was not expected,” she said of her ascension, “it’s a day for which I am prepared.” Hochul said she had already spoken with other elected state officials, as well as leaders in the labor, business and faith communities, and will be meeting with current and potential cabinet officials to build out her senior staff.
Hochul said she would continue to travel the state to listen to residents and “assure them that I’ve got their backs, and I will take their concerns and bring them back to our state capitol, and work with our partners in every level of government to come to solutions.”
In response to a question about whether the surging COVID metrics across the state warranted another state of emergency, Hochul said all options were on the table.
“I’ll be looking very closely at the trends in consultation with our health care professionals as well as the CDC,” she said, adding “the key to get through this has been before our eyes for months – it’s as simple as more people getting vaccinated.”
Close to 70% of adults in the state had received a second vaccine dose, while nearly 77% had received a first dose, which she said was good news.
But there’s still concern about vaccination rates of children.
While she distanced herself from the work environment, Hochul noted that many people supported the policies of the Cuomo administration. She said there was a strong legacy of accomplishment in affordable housing, clean energy and economic development, among other areas.
“I was out there fighting in the streets to raise the minimum wage,” she said. “I was out there fighting for paid family leave. I’ve been the champion of policies to eradicate the specter of heroin and opioid abuse, something that has touched my family personally.”
Hochul said that work would continue “and even be more enhanced.”
She only hinted to whom she would pick as her successor as lieutenant governor.
She noted she was cognizant of the need for diversity and an inclusive ticket.
“I’m going to name someone that I believe the state will be familiar with and very proud of, but the process is still in its early stages,” she said.
In spite of Cuomo’s looming departure, calls for his impeachment persisted from both sides of the aisle in the state legislature.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said in a statement: “The Judiciary Committee was charged with investigating much more than the AG’s report and should proceed with making a recommendation — that’s what should determine our next steps, not the Governor’s resignation.
State Sens. Jim Tedisco, R,C-Glenville, and Daphne Jordan, R,C-Halfmoon, sent a letter to Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine asking him and the other committee members to expedite the impeachment of Cuomo.
“That would also allow a trial to be held after 30 days in the Senate to prohibit him from ever running or holding public office in New York State again and putting New Yorkers in harm’s way, if he’s found guilty,” the Republican said in a tandem statement, which also asked the committee to issue a stern legal warning to the governor and his staff not to delete, destroy or manipulate any emails, documents or other public records on their way out of office.
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