Having one governor on Monday and another on Tuesday gave New Yorkers an opportunity to compare the stark differences in their styles and approaches to governing, and as such gave citizens some insight into what they can expect in the future.
In the short minute between 11:59 p.m. Monday and 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, the scandal-plagued, aggressive, self-indulgent, pedal-to-the metal era of Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave way to the much more subdued, it’s-not-about-me, reel-it-out-slowly approach of new Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Several hours before he was scheduled to leave office on Monday, Cuomo gave the performance we’ve come to expect from him, even as the last embers of his administration died out.
His encore speech as governor featured all the hits — a lengthy recitation of his love of New York and its people, his continued expression of innocence over the sexual harassment and his undisguised seething over his premature departure, his blaming of the press and political culture for his demise, and a recitation of accomplishments that he hopes history will remember more clearly than his flaws.
One would have hoped for something more contrite, less focused on himself at this stage. But Cuomo’s ever-present arrogance and ego wouldn’t let him, especially for something as humiliating as this.
Then on Tuesday came the new governor and a new approach.
Her swearing-in ceremonies were brief and non-descript.
The inauguration speech that followed offered perhaps the biggest contrast to her predecessor and former political running mate.
There was no soaring rhetoric. No major policy initiatives. Few specifics for the public to debate and challenge early on.
The state’s first female governor on her first day in office was about giving people not what they needed to hear, but what they wanted to hear — a reassurance that all those issues and problems of the past would be taken care of in good time.
She said in her speech that brevity would be a “hallmark of her administration,” then backed it up with an inauguration address lasting about 12 minutes — the amount of time Cuomo usually took to clear his throat.
Hoping to distance herself from the governor under whom she served as lieutenant governor for the past six years, the new governor offered boiler-plate platitudes like a “dramatic change in culture,” more “accountability,” “no tolerance for those who cross the line,” and a state government “focused, without distractions.”
New Yorkers could have tolerated a little less brevity in exchange for a few more specifics as to how she was going to accomplish those goals.
In her address, she pledged to combat the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant, offering just a few nuggets, including a plan to require that all school personnel be vaccinated (with a testing option) and a mask mandate for schools.
She stopped short of offering more details, saying only that New Yorkers could expect “new vaccine requirements.” Hmmm. Like what?
Given the chance to offer a stark contrast between her new administration and the closed-off Cuomo crowd on government transparency, Hochul offered only a tepid pledge to improve the request process for government records and to direct state agencies to review their compliance with the existing laws.
That’s not exactly a directive to state agencies to turn over the records the public is entitled to.
And anyone who’s dealt with state agencies during the Cuomo era already knows the general degree of compliance – poor. What’s to review?
Like Cuomo, Hochul avoided tough questions from the press Tuesday. She needs to set herself apart from him on that front.
On sexual harassment and ethics, she said she planned to “overhaul” existing policies, without saying which, where or how.
About the only specific she offered on that was a plan to require in-person sexual harassment training sessions instead of the virtual training allowed now.
If what you see is what you get, New Yorkers are getting a whole different governor than the one they had at the start of the week — one less egotistical and more reserved, one more careful not to offend, one less bombastic and less hard-charging, one who doesn’t seem enamored with the sound of her own voice, one who wades into solutions rather than one who does a cannonball off the high diving board.
At this early stage, it’s difficult to say whether her way will be refreshing or frustrating, effective or debilitating.
Gov. Hochul will no doubt reveal more about her plans in the near future. But the one thing we did learn is that we’re getting a whole different approach to governing.
Let’s hope it works.