Messages of pride and optimism as Hochul becomes first woman to lead N.Y.

New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, left, swears in Kathy Hochul, right, as the first woman to be New York's governor while her husband Bill Hochul holds a bible during a swearing-in ceremony in the Red Room at the state Capitol, early Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)
PHOTOGRAPHER:
New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, left, swears in Kathy Hochul, right, as the first woman to be New York's governor while her husband Bill Hochul holds a bible during a swearing-in ceremony in the Red Room at the state Capitol, early Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool)

ALBANY — New York’s new governor is being welcomed not only as a stark contrast to her successor but for ending one of the last remaining male bastions in state government.

Kathy Hochul was sworn in as New York’s 57th governor early Tuesday, the first woman to hold that office in the 244 years New York has been a state.

“It’s an exciting moment in history in New York state,” said Kathy Sheehan, who in 2014 ended an even-longer-running male succession and became the first woman elected mayor of Albany.

“I see the significance through a number of different lenses,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake. “First, for young women — you can’t aspire to something you can’t see. To me, that’s what breaking these glass ceilings is all about, giving the next generation a role model.”

“It’s about time!” said Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston. “I think it’s great. Of course I wish she was in the other party, but it’s great.”

“I think it’s fortunate for the people of New York state,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. “It’s not just because she’s a woman, it’s also because she’s well-equipped for this position. Her life experience has prepared her.”

“The significance of this milestone cannot be overstated — New York finally has its first woman governor,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

ROLE MODELS LACKING

Mayor Sheehan recalled the lack of female role models as she grew up. 

“For me, it was sort of a lack of seeing women that closed off certain possibilities in my mind. I never knew a female lawyer,” said Sheehan, who went back to school after several years in communications and earned a law degree.

Seeing Geraldine Ferraro run for U.S. vice president in 1984 was a key moment for her.

“That was a real eye-opener for me: ‘Of course women can be in these positions.’ Women who were leaders [had been] almost seen as fringe, they were trying to break into a man’s world,” Sheehan recalled.

Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, didn’t like former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s governing style and economic policies. He hopes Hochul will follow in the path of another pioneering New York woman: Frances Perkins, a workplace safety and labor rights advocate who was Franklin Roosevelt’s state industrial commissioner when he was governor and his secretary of labor when he became president.

As the first woman ever to serve in the U.S. Cabinet, Perkins played a significant role in new, stronger social safety net and labor protections for the American worker. The New York governor wields significant power, Steck said, and if Hochul can make changes on a similar scale, “this would be a tremendous achievement.”

Hochul’s demeanor and interpersonal style will be a step up from her predecessor, Steck predicted.

“I think certainly Kathy Hochul, from knowing her, will be a welcome change from the persona of Andrew Cuomo,” he said.

State Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville, said he’s hoping Hochul comes through for upstate New York. As he’s often noted, state leadership for years has leaned sharply toward downstate and toward the Democratic Party.

But the fact that she’s from Buffalo doesn’t mean anything, he said: “A lot of my Democratic progressive colleagues are from upstate.”

Also, he said, Hochul got off to an unpromising start, choosing to meet privately with the Democrats who control the Assembly and Senate but not with the Republican minority leaders of the two chambers.

“It may not be three men in a room but it looks like it’s back to three persons in a room and that’s not good for the state,” Tedisco said.

“I’m happy we broke the glass ceiling,” he said. “I do rejoice in the fact we have a female governor.”

IT’S THE ECONOMY

Mayor McCarthy said Hochul is very well-versed in a subject very important to Schenectady and the rest of upstate New York: economic development.

“I think she comes to the position with a unique level of expertise,” he said, noting Hochul chaired the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, which entails hundreds of projects each year in 10 regions of the state. 

“She could talk with a high level of knowledge and intricate detail  on things that were happening in Schenectady, on things that were happening in the Southern Tier, in Long Island,” McCarthy said. “I think that level of knowledge is going to serve her well as governor.”

Assemblywoman Woerner said Hochul collaborates rather than dictates.

“I’m really looking forward to having that style be in that office,” she said. “I am really eager to see her.”

There is, Woerner believes, a fundamental difference in the way women and men think, lead and solve problems, which is why it’s good to have both men and women in leadership.

Hochul has the additional benefit of having started at the local level rather than being born into a political role and starting at a high level in the state and national capitals, Woerner said.

“I think the experience she has in local government has to contribute,” she said. “When you have a lot of local government experience you realize you don’t have the power to impose your will.”

Hochul has a diverse resume, serving for years as a town council member and county clerk as well as a one-term U.S. congresswoman before taking the oath as lieutenant governor. She also worked in corporate and government law, promoted economic development in western New York and co-founded a domestic abuse shelter.

She has said she plans to run for election as governor in 2022.

Assemblywoman Walsh cited “her whole background, the fact that she rose up not from any political dynasty … she is to a large extent a self-made person.”

Also, for years, Hochul had been the road show for the Cuomo administration, Walsh said, traveling extensively across the state and not just pitching Cuomo’s policies but listening to what people were saying in response.

“I think she’s going to have an awful lot of good will coming her way,” said Walsh. “I’m assuming her style is not that same sort of bullying, dictatorial style of [Cuomo]. Women govern differently.”

Mayor Sheehan made a similar point, and said Hochul combines that personal style with an extensive understanding of the state’s diverse economies, demographics and geography.

“Gov. Hochul has demonstrated that she’s a really good listener,” Sheehan said. “I think she’s going to be a really great advocate.

“One of the things that’s always struck me is that she’s a public servant, she was called to service. That’s what drives her. That’s something I’ve always admired about her.”

TURNING POINT

State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon said via email:

“Kathy Hochul will make history as she becomes the first female governor of New York state. I wish her nothing but the best and want her to succeed because I want New York state to succeed. Incoming Governor Hochul has earned a reputation as someone who will listen, work well with, and respect others. She is the anti-Andrew Cuomo. While we may not always see eye-to-eye on matters of public policy, I look forward to working with her on improving the Capital District and our entire state’s quality of life, bringing our economy back from COVID, addressing public safety, protecting taxpayers, and making New York a much more affordable place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said via email:

“Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s swearing in as the first female governor of New York marks a new era for our state. I’m hopeful that with our shared upstate roots we can work together to revive our economy, build back local businesses and provide families with the support they need and deserve. The past year and a half has been a difficult and uncertain chapter in our state’s history and, unfortunately, we’re not out of the woods yet. With much work left to do and many challenges ahead, I’m optimistic that our new governor will bring us a fresh perspective and a collaborative relationship with the Legislature to move our state forward.”

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, said via email:

“This is a history-making moment — one that gives New York a renewed sense of possibility. True leadership is measured in an ability to bring people together and build a brighter, stronger future for all, and I have every confidence that Governor Hochul — a fellow upstate woman and New York’s first female governor — will lead our state forward with humility, compassion and integrity. Upstate now has a true advocate at the helm and I look forward to working with her to build a New York that we can be proud of and address the issues that matter most to our communities.” 

Assembly member Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, said via email:

“I am proud to see a smooth transition in our state government and I look forward to working with the highly accomplished incoming governor, Kathy Hochul. We have no time to waste with regard to reigniting the economic recovery, re-opening our schools, addressing gun violence, vaccinations, rent assistance, and more. We need to do all we can to rebuild the public trust in our government institutions, while continuing to address a host of challenges facing our great state.” 

Sen. Gillibrand said via email:

“Having worked closely with incoming Governor Hochul when we served together in Congress, I know that she is a dedicated public servant and I have extraordinary faith in her ability to build a new culture of leadership. I look forward to working closely with her in the coming months to serve the people of New York, to strengthen our economy and to make sure that our state has the resources it needs to rebuild and thrive.”

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