WASHINGTON — New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is poised to take over running the state government after Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned Tuesday following a report from the attorney general that alleged he sexually harassed multiple women, including employees, and violated state and federal law.
The future governor called Cuomo's decision "the right thing to do and in the best interests of New Yorkers" in a brief statement after his announcement.
"As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th governor," she said.
Hochul, 62, has largely stayed out of the public eye in recent years, especially compared with Cuomo, whose national profile rose as New York became the early epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic. Facing an impeachment probe, Cuomo said Tuesday that he would "step aside and let government get back to government," effective in 14 days, while also continuing to insist he had done nothing wrong.
In a statement shortly after the attorney general's report was made public, Hochul said sexual harassment "is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service."
"The AG’s investigation has documented repulsive & unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women & admire their courage coming forward," she added. "No one is above the law."
While Hochul might not be a household name, she is no newcomer to politics.
Hochul grew up in a working-class Irish Catholic family in western New York and has credited her father's time as a steelworker and union organizer as a driving force behind her political views.
Hochul graduated from Syracuse University and received a law degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She began her career working for a law firm in Washington and later for New York Democrats Rep. John LaFalce and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan before beginning her own political career back home.
Hochul was first elected to public office in the 1980s as council member in Hamburg, just outside of Buffalo. She rose through the political ranks with several local positions, eventually becoming the Erie County clerk in 2007.
In 2011, Hochul won a special U.S. House election, flipping a district spanning from Buffalo to Rochester that had long been controlled by Republicans, by campaigning against the GOP plan to overhaul Medicare.
Redistricting made Hochul's seat even more rural and conservative and she lost her re-election bid in 2012 to Republican Chris Collins, who would later become the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump for president.
After briefly working as a lobbyist as vice president for government relations at M&T Bank, Hochul was selected by Cuomo in 2014 as his running mate in his campaign for re-election, replacing retiring Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. Hochul was seen as a boost to the ticket given her roots in Erie County, which Cuomo lost in 2010.
As lieutenant governor, Hochul has earned a reputation as a workhorse in part because of her grueling travel schedule. She has made a point of visiting each of the state's 62 counties every year and has kept up her travel through the pandemic, focusing her attention on the Covid-19 response in western New York and more rural parts of the state.
"I’ve never seen a schedule likes hers," former Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., said. "She keeps in touch with people. She’s been building support even before all this. She’s built out a really solid network. She’s shown she’s intellectually capable. And she’s got the political acumen to do the job.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was among the New York Democrats calling on Cuomo to resign after the attorney general's report was released, said Hochul "will be an extraordinary governor."
"She understands the complexities and needs of our state having been both a congresswoman and having been lieutenant governor for the last several years," Gillibrand said. "She is ready and able and capable of being an extraordinary governor, and I look forward to supporting her and helping her as she turns towards governing our state in a very difficult and challenging time."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Cuomo made "the right decision" and also expressed support for Hochul.
"I have full confidence that Lt. Gov. Hochul will establish a professional and capable administration," Schumer said. "I have spoken with Lt Gov. Hochul and look forward to working together to help the people of New York."
Cuomo had been criticized by some as underutilizing Hochul, appearing uninterested in sharing responsibilities or power with her even in a time of crisis.
Hochul was included in only one of Cuomo's famous daily Covid press conferences, and the governor reportedly made no mention of her in his book published last year about leadership during the pandemic.
Cuomo put Hochul in charge of leading his administration's "Enough Is Enough" campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses. He also appointed her to co-chair the heroin and opioid abuse task force.
She will be the state's first female governor. Hochul's husband, William, is a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. They have two children together.