Kathy Hochul makes history, sworn in as first woman elected governor of New York

ALBANY — Kathy Hochul paid tribute to New York’s storied history and shared an optimistic vision of its future Sunday as she began a full four-year term as the first woman elected governor of the Empire State.

The Buffalo native, wearing suffragette white, focused on public safety, affordability and equality as she was sworn in during an inaugural celebration steps from the state Capitol.

“My confidence in our future is steeped in our glorious past,” Hochul told a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. “In the face of unprecedented adversity, we always persist, we persevere, we prevail.”

The governor avoided laying out specific policy proposals, which she said will be unveiled during her State of the State address later this month, and instead focused on New York’s role in the historic fights for civil rights and women’s suffrage as she vowed to honor the state’s legacy.

“This day belongs to the girls, the young women who will grow up knowing that from this day forward there are no real barriers they can’t overcome,” Hochul said after being sworn in by New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes.

The governor did touch on some priorities her administration will target in the upcoming legislative session and beyond during her 30-minute inaugural address.

Hochul vowed to address public safety, population loss and affordability, with a focus on communities of color and equality, as she struck a hopeful tone and called for unity.

“Our people are hurting,” the governor said. “We must reverse the trends of people leaving our state in search of lower costs and opportunities elsewhere.

“We will fight the good fights. To my very core, I believe there is nothing we can’t accomplish together,” she added.

A Democrat, Hochul narrowly defeated Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in November to secure a full four-year term in office after being elevated to the position just shy of a year and a half ago.

Hochul replaced Andrew Cuomo after he resigned under pressure in the wake of multiple sexual harassment claims. She previously served nearly seven years as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

While serving out the remaining 16 months of Cuomo’s third term and competing in a tighter than expected race against Zeldin, Hochul has already carved out a legacy in part forged by multiple tragedies and challenges during her tenure.

Last spring, she pushed and passed more stringent gun laws in the wake of a horrific race-fueled shooting that left 10 Black people dead at a Buffalo supermarket.

At the same time, she took steps to safeguard abortion access in New York in light of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and navigated a combative budget process that resulted in increased child-care funding, building up the state’s rainy-day reserves and amending the state’s controversial cashless bail laws.

Hochul took over the reins of government midpandemic and had to contend with outbreaks of mpox, a polio scare and waves of coronavirus infections during her first months in office.

A one-term congresswoman and former county clerk before being elected lieutenant governor in 2014, the 64-year-old also implemented reforms to sexual harassment and ethics training procedures and policies for state employees in Cuomo’s wake, and vowed upon becoming governor to help people “believe in their government again.”

Her ability to accomplish that lofty goal was questioned when her initial pick for lieutenant governor was indicted on corruption charges early last year.

Brian Benjamin resigned as Hochul’s second in command last April following his arrest on federal bribery and wire fraud charges linked to his time as a state senator. Hochul claimed to have been blindsided by the scandal and blamed a botched vetting process.

Hochul’s first full term begins with her relationship with fellow Dems in the Legislature already strained after a significant number of senators vowed to vote against her nomination of Hector LaSalle to lead the state’s highest court.

Opponents, including politically powerful labor unions, have pushed back on the idea of LaSalle serving as chief judge of the Court of Appeals, arguing he will further the bench’s conservative bent.

During her address, the governor acknowledged the recent blizzard that left 39 dead in western New York and thanked the first responders for their work during the storm.

The governor also touched on her own history growing up near Buffalo. One of six siblings, Hochul graduated from Syracuse University and earned her law degree from Catholic University of America.

She served 14 years on the Town Board of Hamburg, a suburb of the Queen City, before becoming county clerk in Erie County and winning a special election for an empty seat in Congress in 2011.

During her swearing-in, Hochul was joined by her husband, William Hochul, a lawyer who served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. The couple’s two adult children and granddaughter joined them onstage during the ceremony.

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli also took the oath of office Sunday afternoon.