Incoming New York governor vows to turn page on "toxic" culture under Cuomo
Albany, New York – Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is "fully prepared" to lead New York as the first woman to serve as governor and vowed Wednesday to rid Albany of any Cuomo administration staffers involved in "unethical" conduct.
In her first public remarks since Governor Cuomo announced his resignation amid sexual harassment allegations, Hochul distanced herself from the disgraced governor and promised to help the state turn the page when she takes power on August 24.
"Nobody will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment," Hochul told reporters at the State Capitol, adding that she's "fully prepared to assume the responsibilities as the 57th governor of the State of New York."
Hochul, a Democrat, emphasized that she has never been a member of Cuomo's inner circle and said she was unaware of the governor's transgressions.
"I think it's very clear that the governor and I have not been close, physically or otherwise," she said.
"I've been traveling the state and do not spend much time in his presence or in the presence of many in the state Capitol."
Cuomo chose to step down after investigators working under Attorney General Letitia James concluded that a close-knit circle of senior Cuomo aides fostered a "toxic" workplace that enabled the governor to sexually harass 11 women, most of them much younger aides.
Hochul outlines her priority issues as governor
Hochul, serving her second term in the largely ceremonial role of lieutenant governor, said the 14-day transition following Cuomo's announcement is not what she would have preferred, but said the window will give her time to meet with cabinet officials and assemble senior staff.
"However, I will take advantage of that time and continue to engage with the people of the state of New York," she said. "The promise I make to all New Yorkers, right here and right now: I will fight like hell for you every single day."
The 62-year-old Buffalo native said she will announce a new lieutenant governor within the next two weeks, noting that she is prioritizing diversity and inclusivity as she builds a team.
She also outlined a host of issues she plans to prioritize when she assumes office later this month, including the rise of the Covid-19 delta variant and hospitalizations and the economic anxieties facing small businesses and families across the state.
The former congresswoman said while she missed a call from President Biden earlier Wednesday, she had already spoken with New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Harlem Democrat, as well as Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand over the past 24 hours.
Democratic mayoral hopeful Eric Adams said he spoke to Hochul on Tuesday and said he looks forward to working with her.
"She's a professional. She's a steady hand. It's what we need right now," he told reporters outside of Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. "When you turn over the state to an individual, you need someone with a steady hand. She has a steady hand, and I believe she's going to be able to navigate the challenges we're having."
Cuomo could face criminal charges
Hochul said she spoke with Cuomo on Tuesday and he "pledged his full support for a smooth transition."
Cuomo, who has denied touching anyone inappropriately, said during his resignation speech that his instinct was to fight back against the claims, which he cast as false and misunderstandings.
However, the 63-year-old said he eventually decided that it was best for him to step aside and avoid a drawn-out impeachment process and allow the state government to "get back to governing."
One thing is clear: Hochul has no time for Cuomo aides who abetted his alleged behavior.
"Nobody named in that report doing anything unethical will remain in my administration," she said.
Hochul said it was premature to discuss whether she would consider pardoning Cuomo if he faces criminal charges as prosecutors around the state have said they are looking at evidence collected by the attorney general's office.
One of Cuomo's accusers, Brittany Commisso, has already filed a criminal complaint with the Albany County sheriff's office.
Cuomo is also under investigation for other matters
The soon-to-be governor also said she didn't want to weigh in on the state Assembly's ongoing impeachment probe and wouldn't say whether she believes it should continue.
"It is far too premature to even have those conversations," Hochul said, regarding a possible pardon.
In addition to the harassment allegations, the Assembly investigation is looking at whether the Cuomo administration manipulated data related to Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes and whether the governor illegally used staff to assist in writing a pandemic-themed book last year.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they would at the very least want the probe to continue and a public report to be issued detailing their findings.
While Hochul held court at the Capitol, an increasingly isolated Cuomo remained holed up at the nearby Executive Mansion.
He helicoptered back to Albany after his Tuesday resignation speech in Manhattan, in which he for the first time apologized to all of his 11 accusers, admitted that he "deeply offended" them, and said he takes "full responsibility" for his actions.
Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO / Pacific Press Agency