October 4, 2023

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul visits the state vaccination center for COVID-19 at the Aqueduct Circuit – Racing Hall.

Lev Radin | LightRakete | Getty Images

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was catapulted into the national limelight on Tuesday when Governor Andrew Cuomo abruptly announced his resignation amid a growing sexual harassment scandal.

In two weeks, Hochul will be the first woman ever to lead New York State if Cuomo’s resignation takes effect and she takes over the office.

Hochul, 62, is relatively unknown outside of New York political circles, and she is certainly not a household name like her predecessor.

But people who know Hochul say the former congresswoman is ready for the job. Hochul said Tuesday that she was ready to lead New York, which is still battling the Covid pandemic and amid a fragile economic recovery.

“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down. It is the right thing and in the best interests of New Yorkers,” she said in a Twitter post.

“As someone who has served in all levels of government and who is next to succeed, I am ready to lead the 57th governor of New York State,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he had spoken to Hochul and that he had “full confidence” that it would create a “professional and capable administration”. New York Junior US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said Hochul will be an “extraordinary governor”.

“She understands the complexities and needs of our state, having served as both a congressman and lieutenant governor for a number of years,” said Gillibrand.

“She is ready and able and able to be an exceptional governor and I look forward to supporting her and helping her run our state through a very difficult and challenging time,” said the senator.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Joe Biden has not spoken to Hochul, but the government looks forward to working with her. Biden is expected to speak to her “in the coming days,” a senior White House official told NBC News.

Since joining the Cuomo team for the first time in 2014, Hochul has developed a role as a kind of counterweight to Cuomo.

Where he prefers to work from his New York City office, Hochul has kept a hectic travel schedule across the state for years, sometimes making five stopovers a day, according to a current profile in the New York Times. Hochul has toured all 62 counties in the state every year during her tenure.

Hochul and Cuomo have barely any personal or professional relationship and she hasn’t spoken to him since February, the Times profile said. Last week she called the charges against him by eleven women “repulsive and unlawful”.

“Sexual harassment is unacceptable in every workplace and certainly not in the public sector,” said Hochul in a Twitter post.

Hochul was no stranger to politics before she became the lieutenant governor of Cuomos for three terms.

She served as an assistant to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and later held local positions, including on the city council in Hamburg, west of New York, and as a clerk for Erie County, according to her campaign website.

In 2011, Hochul was elected to Congress in a largely Republican district that stretched from Buffalo to Rochester, according to the Times profile.

Hochul was the first Democrat to represent the district in 40 years, and her victory was viewed as a referendum on former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Republican plans to bankrupt Medicare, according to her campaign website.

After Hochul was beaten into Congress in her 2012 re-election campaign, she was chosen by Cuomo as his vice-president during his first re-election campaign as governor.

As Vice Governor, Hochul has highlighted several political priorities, including issues of gender and economic inequality.

She chairs the state’s regional economic development council and the women’s electoral commission, and has led some of the governor’s lobbying campaigns, such as the Sexual Assault Prevention Program, “Enough is Enough”, according to her campaign website.