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Hochul distances herself from Cuomo, says she'll eliminate 'toxic' environment as governor

The lieutenant governor is slated to become New York's first female governor when Andrew Cuomo steps down in two weeks.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed on Wednesday to change the culture in the governor's office when she succeeds Andrew Cuomo in two weeks.

"I will fight like hell for you every single day," said Hochul, addressing New Yorkers in her first public remarks since Cuomo announced Tuesday he is resigning in the wake of numerous sexual harassment allegations. "No one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment."

Hochul quickly distanced herself from her former running mate, noting they "have not been close, physically or otherwise."

"I did not spend much time in his presence," she said.

The 62-year-old said she's ready to take the reins of state government now, but she will use the two weeks until Cuomo leaves to put together her own Cabinet and listen to New Yorkers about their concerns.

"My style is listen first, then take decisive action," she said, adding that she would outline her vision for the state when she officially takes office. "Make no mistake, our work has already begun," she said.

Hochul said there would be changes in the governor's office.

"There will be turnover," she said of the current administration, which a report by the state attorney general's office alleged was a "hostile work environment."

"No one who has been named as doing anything unethical will remain in my administration," Hochul told reporters in Albany.

She said she had spoken to Cuomo, and he "pledged his full support" for a smooth transition. She said the two-week wait for him to leave office is "not what I asked for," but the Cuomo administration "viewed it as necessary."

When she ascends to the top spot, Hochul will become the first female governor in the state's history.

While she's kept a much lower public profile than Cuomo, Hochul, a former county clerk and U.S. congresswoman, has earned a reputation as a hard worker, including visiting each of the state's 62 counties annually since becoming lieutenant governor in 2015.

Cuomo, facing bipartisan demands to resign and the specter of impending impeachment, said Tuesday he would step down in two weeks.

In a written statement after Cuomo's announcement, Hochul said Cuomo was doing "the right thing" by stepping down and said, "I am prepared to lead as New York State's 57th governor."

Asked by reporters Wednesday if the state Assembly's impeachment probe of Cuomo should move forward, Hochul said she would not try to tell the legislative body what to do.

The six Republican members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee released a letter calling for the completion of the the committee's monthslong impeachment investigation.

Judiciary committee Chair Charles Lavine, a Democrat, said earlier this week that investigators were just weeks away from wrapping up their probe into the harassment claims against Cuomo, as well as allegations that he underreported the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 in state nursing homes and wrongfully used state resources to help publish his book on leadership during the pandemic.

Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing, and he cited the distraction an impeachment trial would cause in his resignation speech Tuesday.

"The governor’s resignation doesn’t bring accountability or justice to the victims of his actions. The Impeachment process must move forward," the Republican committee members said in a post on Twitter.

"The people of the state of New York deserve a full, public disclosure of the information obtained during our search for the truth," the Republicans' letter said.

Some Democratic Assembly members took a similar view.

"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,” said one Democrat who's not on the committee, Angelo Santabarbara.

Another Democrat, judiciary committee member Catalina Cruz, told MSNBC there's "a report that needs to come out" but questioned what to do with it after its release.

"Do we move forward with an impeachment and then all it does is bar him from ever running again, and we're spending money and time and resources," she said. "Or do we end this now and allow our state to heal, move forward? I think it's a decision we have to make as a group."

The judiciary committee is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss next steps.