As Cuomo fights for political life, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul stays the course and waits

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Sarah Taddeo, New York State Team
·5 min read
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ALBANY, N.Y. – Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was upbeat but brisk Thursday on a Zoom call with the North Country Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism as she discussed the developments the state had planned for the region.

After her presentation and words from an official, Hochul exited the call, taking no questions from several reporters at the meeting.

She appeared at a slate of other events Thursday and Friday, some in person and some by recording, including her public COVID-19 vaccination Friday morning.

Absent from her appearances was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, her boss, as he fights sexual harassment allegations that have come to light in recent weeks.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, right, visits rail manufacturer Alstom's facility in Hornell, N.Y., in 2019. The company is working on the next generation of high-speed trains.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, right, visits rail manufacturer Alstom's facility in Hornell, N.Y., in 2019. The company is working on the next generation of high-speed trains.

Seven women have accused him of sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior. Cuomo, a Democrat, said Friday he has no intention of stepping down. He accused the politicians calling for his resignation of being "reckless" and "bowing to cancel culture."

Hochul has tried to keep it business as usual. Her days are usually packed with events, more online than in person during the pandemic.

She's said little about the Cuomo crisis, other than that there should be a thorough investigation.

The former congresswoman from Buffalo could play a much larger role: She might be governor if Cuomo cedes to the calls to resign.

Pressure to step down: 59 state lawmakers call for Cuomo to resign as Assembly launches probe

Cuomo unwilling to resign: Andrew Cuomo remains defiant, won't resign despite call from House Democrats

Pushing Hochul to lead

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the  National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor,  when she visited on Nov. 11, 2020.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, when she visited on Nov. 11, 2020.

The contingent of lawmakers pushing him to leave has grown in the past few days: 59 Democratic lawmakers in the Legislature called for his resignation Thursday.

Friday, almost all of New York's 19 Democratic members of the U.S. House called on him to resign, as did both of the state's senators, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Several asked Cuomo, if nothing else, to step aside and hand the reins to Hochul while multiple investigations are underway into his conduct.

"For the good of the State of New York and those New Yorkers we collectively serve, he should step aside and let our well-respected Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul step in while these investigations are underway,” Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, said in a statement Thursday.

"These are serious allegations, and the people of New York State need steady leadership without distraction," Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald said in a statement. "Since the governor has said that he will not resign, I believe it is in the best interest of our state if Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul serves as Acting Governor until the Attorney General’s investigations or any other potential inquiries reach a conclusion or a removal determination under the law is made."

The COVID-19 pandemic and the passage of the state budget cannot be ignored, and Cuomo is "unable to govern effectively at this time," read a statement from five western New York lawmakers Friday.

"The New York state Constitution allows for the governor to temporarily step aside and for the lieutenant governor to serve as acting governor,” the statement continued. "We have the greatest confidence in Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and know that she will be able to effectively govern the state of New York as we continue the work to pass a state budget and address the pandemic."

Who is Kathy Hochul? What to know about Cuomo's lieutenant governor

Hochul's response

New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul taps elbows to greet Don Agostinelli outside El Pilon 
Criollo restaurant in Rochester, N.Y. Agostinelli's business, Clinton Ave Jewelry and Pawn, was vandalized during unrest after a Black Lives Matter rally May 30.
New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul taps elbows to greet Don Agostinelli outside El Pilon Criollo restaurant in Rochester, N.Y. Agostinelli's business, Clinton Ave Jewelry and Pawn, was vandalized during unrest after a Black Lives Matter rally May 30.

Hochul has released two statements that asked for patience from the public while waiting for a review or investigation to run its course.

"Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously. I support an independent review,” Hochul said in a statement Feb. 27, several days after the first allegations against Cuomo were made public.

Ten days later, she spoke on an independent investigation through the Attorney General’s Office, led by attorneys Joon Kim and Anne Clark.

"I am confident everyone’s voice will be heard and taken seriously," Hochul said. "I trust the inquiry to be completed as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible. New Yorkers should be confident that through this process they will soon learn the facts."​

The State Assembly announced Thursday that it was opening its own impeachment investigation.

More: New York Assembly launches impeachment investigation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Is she ready?

Richard Drago, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, left, presents Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul with a challenge coin at the dedication of the newly expanded National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, N.Y., on Nov. 11, 2020.
Richard Drago, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, left, presents Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul with a challenge coin at the dedication of the newly expanded National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, N.Y., on Nov. 11, 2020.

Hochul’s experience in all tiers of local and state politics in New York gives her a unique readiness to step into the role of governor, should Gov. Cuomo resign or be asked to leave, said Jeremy Zellner, Eric County Democratic Committee chairman.

"There’s no question that Kathy Hochul could do the job of governor on Day One,” Zellner said. "Kathy is an incredibly down-to-earth person ... and she doesn’t back down from challenges."

Hochul started her political career in Erie County as a town board member in Hamburg and later as Erie County clerk. She was elected to the U.S. Congress in 2011 and won election as lieutenant governor after being picked as Cuomo’s running mate in 2014, beating Jumaane Williams, a New York City councilman, in a primary in 2018.

She replaced Robert Duffy, the former Rochester mayor, who was lieutenant governor, during Cuomo's first term.

Hochul won her congressional seat in a competitive district in Erie and Niagara counties, connecting with the public and displaying empathy for the challenges they face, Zellner said.

"She’s an incredibly tough elected official," he said. "She has built coalitions around the state."

If she takes the helm as governor, he said, it’ll be a smooth transition.

"If there’s one word to describe her, it’s 'tenacious,'" he said. "She will not be taken by surprise here. I’m sure that she’s working hard with her team to be prepared for anything that could happen over the next weeks and months."

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul tours the newly expanded National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, N.Y., on Nov. 11, 2020.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul tours the newly expanded National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, N.Y., on Nov. 11, 2020.

Follow Sarah Taddeo on Twitter @Sjtaddeo

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Andrew Cuomo: Amid scandals, NY Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul stays the course