With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) beleaguered by accusations of sexual harassment and facing mounting calls for resignation, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has taken a rare turn in the national spotlight as the first in line to succeed the embattled governor if he were to resign or be removed from office.
Hochul, a New York native and a long-time public official, would take over as the state’s 57th chief executive—the first woman to serve in that role—for the remaining year of Cuomo’s term if he were to leave office, as dictated by the New York State Constitution.
The 62-year-old has served as Cuomo’s second-in-command since 2015, during which time she’s chaired New York’s 10 Regional Economic Development Councils—a Cuomo initiative that’s funneled over $6.9 billion into more than 8,300 projects across the state over the past decade, supporting over 240,000 jobs—and the state’s Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Abuse.
Hochul also spearheaded Cuomo’s “Enough is Enough” initiative, a campaign to combat sexual assault on colleges campuses.
Hochul’s duties once the pandemic hit New York included acting as a local liaison across the state, meeting with officials in 62 counties and conducting hundreds of local media interviews.
Cuomo named Hochul as his choice for lieutenant governor while running for his second term in 2014, two years after she lost her bid for reelection to Congress, a seat she held for one term after becoming the first Democrat in 40 years to win the Republican-leaning 26th congressional district, but then lost following a redistricting.
Hochul, who had experience in local politics in Erie County, ran for Congress as a moderate “independent” Democrat and earned an endorsement from the National Rifle Association—making her a valuable asset to Cuomo in the Republican-leaning counties in the state.
The lieutenant governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Allies of the lieutenant governor have labeled her capable of leading the state. “Kathy is absolutely ready,” Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner told The New York Post over the weekend. “She’s been a bulldog from day one. She knows what needs to get done for the people of New York.”
Already battered by scrutiny over his administration’s under-reporting of deaths in New York’s nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, Cuomo has faced mounting criticism—and calls for his resignation—over the past two weeks as multiple women, including two former aides, publicly accused the governor of unwanted sexual advances. Cuomo denied inappropriately touching or propositioning the two former aides in a Sunday statement in which he apologized for comments in the workplace that he acknowledged may have been “misinterpreted” as “unwanted flirtation.” The third woman revealed her allegations on Monday evening. Cuomo referred an inquiry into the allegations to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, whose office will release a public report on its findings. Cuomo is also facing a federal probe into his administration’s handling of nursing homes.
Hochul issued a statement supporting an independent review of the claims against the governor after a second former staffer accused Cuomo of sexual harassment last week. “Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously,” Hochul said.