Reporter’s Notebook: Hochul starts changing the mood in Albany

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in Albany, New York
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who takes office as New York’s chief executive on Aug. 24, gives a thumbs up at her Aug. 11 press conference in Albany.
REUTERS/Cindy Schultz

Right off the bat, the change couldn’t be clearer.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul’s first press briefing as the incoming governor of New York state on Wednesday, a day after Andrew Cuomo announced his impending resignation, marked a drastic contrast in the leadership skills and style between the state’s highest executives.

For starters, reporters were welcome to attend in person at the Capitol. Cuomo has an icy relationship with the press, and he demonstrated that during the pandemic when he made his briefings virtual-only for a time out of alleged concerns about COVID-19. He eventually opened the briefings back up to in-person coverage in the spring as the virus eased and pressure mounted for him to do so.

Before a throng of reporters from across the state, Hochul confidently strode to the podium and delivered a very succinct speech in which she offered a basic outline of what she hoped to accomplish in the two-week transition period.

There was no grandiosity in her roughly three-minute statement; in many ways, her words echoed the kind of “straight talk amongst friends” that Gerald Ford spoke of when he took the oath of office as president amid the Watergate scandal in August 1974.

Hochul acknowledged the difficulty of the past 18 months of both the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially the anxiety of children returning to school in September. She promised not only to “fight like hell” for New Yorkers, but also to understand them and their needs — something that she vowed would be the root of her governing style. 

To that end, she promised to visit with New Yorkers across the state over the next couple of weeks to learn more about what they want to see in her stewardship of the state.

“People will soon learn is to listen first, then take decisive action,” Hochul said.

The remarks were followed by a lengthy Q&A with the press. They were eager to ask questions, and Hochul was just as eager to respond. The governor-to-be also acknowledged the name of each outlet and reporter, with an emcee announcing only those reporters appearing virtually.

She continued to set a new tone as someone who would be her own governor, not a mere placeholder to carry on the Cuomo agenda. Hochul made a point of noting that she did not have a close working relationship with the current governor, and that the two weeks notice he gave wasn’t what she had asked for.

Hochul also made clear she has zero tolerance for any unethical behavior that Cuomo’s advisors may have engaged in, as outlined in Attorney General Letitia James’ independent investigation report into the sexual harassment allegations that propagated his downfall.

“No one who was named as doing anything unethical in the report will remain in my administration,” Hochul said Wednesday. “At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment.”

After months of turbulence from Albany, Hochul gave every indication that she’s not only ready to govern, but ready to move New York away into a kinder, gentler era of governing.

“The last few months, lieutenant governors continue the work regardless of what’s going on around them,” she said. “I’m ready for this, and it’s not something that we expected or asked for, but I am fully prepared to assume the responsibilities as the 57th governor of New York.”