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Kathy Hochul Will Soon Become New York's Governor — Here's How She Differs From Cuomo

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After days of speculation, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his resignation today. New York's lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will fill his post. Here she is in 2018, becoming the first woman lieutenant governor to win reelection in New York.

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KATHY HOCHUL: Isn't it time that we're done making history, that we no longer have to have another female first? Can we get to that point?

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HOCHUL: I want us to be done with historic firsts because it should be expected that women will run for office and hold one half of all the positions - expected.

SHAPIRO: Well, here's one more first. When she takes office in two weeks, she'll be the first woman governor in New York state. Karen DeWitt covers state government and politics for New York State Public Radio. Thanks for being here.

KAREN DEWITT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. Glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: Give us a sense of who Kathy Hochul is. Tell us about her.

DEWITT: Well, she's from Buffalo. That's the farthest western part of New York. She's a former congresswoman. She's held a number of local-elected offices before Cuomo, who's from Queens, chose her in 2014 to balance the ticket. She's not a household name in New York, but she's been a devoted cheerleader for Cuomo, relentlessly traveling the state, making multiple steps - stops in a day. And, you know, it's a big state. She'll start in Buffalo, be in New York City - in between, go to Rochester and Syracuse, all ostensibly to carry out his message. She's done that for years. But, you know, in those years, she's made a lot of important connections with the New York political world by doing that.

But that said, you know, Cuomo has kept her at arm's length. She isn't part of his inner circle. For instance, you never saw her in the national televised COVID briefings that the governor did every day a year ago. And in some ways, that is going to serve her well, I think, because it seems like New York is really going to start on a clean slate.

SHAPIRO: You say Cuomo chose her to balance the ticket. How does she compare politically to him?

DEWITT: Well, you know, she comes from a more conservative background. She once received an A rating from the NRA. And about a dozen years ago, when the idea of giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants was first proposed, she opposed it. She was Erie County clerk then. She said she'd call immigration officials if she saw anyone trying to get a license. Since then, of course, she's changed her position to align with Cuomo's. She's become a supporter of gun control.

But, you know, even though she is more conservative, unlike Cuomo, she has good relationships with the progressive wing of New York's Democratic Party, which is really gaining strength, gaining more positions in the legislature. Personality-wise, she's more at ease in a crowd of people, making small talk, you know, a little more warm, a little more friendly. But generally, she's more low-key and less drama. She's not an attention-seeker in the same way that Cuomo is.

SHAPIRO: What has she said about the investigation into Cuomo and his resignation?

DEWITT: Well, you know, when the sexual harassment allegations first became public back in March, she was pretty cautious. She said she wanted to wait for the attorney general's report before passing any judgment. Well, seven days ago when that damning report came out, she said that it documented repulsive and unlawful behavior that was just completely unacceptable. She stopped short, though, of calling on him to step down, unlike every other politician in the state, because she said it would be a conflict of interest since she's next in the line of succession. And today, she said she agrees with the governor's decision to resign and she's prepared to take over as New York's 57th governor.

SHAPIRO: And what's going to be at the top of her to-do list as governor? What kind of shape has Cuomo left the state in?

DEWITT: Oh, my goodness. Well, it is not a slow time in New York politics - not a sleepy August, not in New York or the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. The delta variant is on the rise. Even though vaccination rates in New York state are higher than most of the nation, they've been stagnating in recent months. New York's eviction moratorium also ends on August 31. And the state has federal money to help tens of thousands of tenants, but it has a lot of trouble getting that money out the door. It doesn't have a functioning program right now. So in just a matter of weeks, she's probably going to be expected to fix that. I think she's going to rely on the goodwill of the state legislature and maybe some help there - the legislative leaders are very supportive of her - and get help from what's left of Governor Cuomo's staff because a lot of them are exiting.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, is she the Democratic de facto front-runner for the gubernatorial election next year?

DEWITT: Well, yes, I think that she will be, you know, just because she will have been acting governor for over a year, practically a year and a half by next November's elections. I don't think she would have been considered the front-runner before. Frankly, Attorney General Tish James, who did the scathing report on Cuomo, was considered the front-runner...

SHAPIRO: All right.

DEWITT: ...Even though she hasn't said whether she's going to run or not.

SHAPIRO: Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio, thank you.

DEWITT: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAN OMARI FEAT. ANNA WISE SONG, "MOVE TOO FAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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