Transition of power: Hochul in office tips the balance for women, upstate


'A breath of fresh air for the state'

NEW YORK (NEXSTAR) — In her first address since Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said she’s already rolling up her sleeves. Her ascension to the new role is historically significant for many reasons, and one of the most notable is that upstate native Hochul will become New York’s first woman governor.

Hochul’s turn as the 57th governor of the Empire State represents “an exciting day for the women’s rights movement,” according to Jennifer Gabriel, the Executive Director of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. “Any time a woman is able to break through a glass ceiling that seems just completely unbreakable is cause for celebration.”

“Obviously, this has been a difficult time for our state and for our nation, as we have seen what’s going on, but now that we know the outcome and we can move forward, it’s time to celebrate soon-to-be Governor Hochul,” Gabriel said. She said that assuming the role is a big step forward for those who have fought for years for equality and women’s rights—including women like Elizabeth Katie Stanton, who lead the women’s rights movement in the 1800s, and Marcia Greenberger, the founder of the National Women’s Law Center.

“It’s provided a platform upon which we can stand and celebrate and keep fighting and keep working towards a more equitable world—not just for women, but for all people who are marginalized in their lives,” Gabriel said. 

“Although society has taken a while to catch up to some of the conversations around women in the workplace and what we face, we can look to history to show we have been making progress for many, many years,” said Gabriel. She said Hochul has been a friend to women’s equality and that she’ll surely continue those conversations going forward. This is another step and an important step towards true equality.”

Many believe having a female governor will inspire future generations of women to lead. “It does make a difference for people to see people who look like them doing important things. If you only see people who don’t look at all like you, you don’t think to aspire to that, and so I think it’s an important step,” agreed Barbara Grosh, the President of the League of Women Voters of the Rochester Metropolitan Area.

Grosh said this is also an indication of how hard women have worked over the years. “What it means for us is that women stood up for themselves. Women were believed. Women were in positions of power to take women seriously, so we’re actually encouraged by the fact that we got this far,” Grosh said. 

The incoming governor has promised to get rid of the notoriously toxic work environment in Albany. She also didn’t mince words about her relationship with the outgoing governor. And even before he resigned, Hochul had harsh criticism for Cuomo’s reported behavior.

Hours after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report outlining sexual misconduct allegations made against Cuomo by 11 women—including current and former state employees—Hochul released a statement decrying his alleged conduct towards women. In the days between the report’s release and Cuomo’s resignation, Hochul said she would avoid commenting due to being next in the line of succession herself:

Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. The Attorney General’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward.

No one is above the law. Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps.

Because Lieutenant Governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment.

When Cuomo announced he would resign she said in part, “It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers.” Since his announcement, she has insisted that not only is she prepared to take charge, but that she will run for governor herself after finishing Cuomo’s current term.

According to Hochul’s Communications Director, she plans to comment further on this “in the near future.”

Hochul has been lieutenant governor for the past six years, tackling issues like sexual assault on college campuses. Before her current role, the Hamburg, New York native was Erie County Clerk and a congresswoman, representing the 26th Congressional District.

Hochul graduated from Hamburg High School in 1976. Superintendent Michael Cornell said the district has been proud of Hochul for a long time, but now, even more so. “I think people look at Kathy Hochul as a real change and a breath of fresh air for the state,” he said.

Hochul got her start on the Hamburg Town Board in the same seat councilwoman Karen Hoak sits now. Hoak’s father sat on the board with Hochul. “I got to see firsthand that women can in fact do it all,” Hoak said. “Women, in fact, can take on leadership roles and balance a family.”

Hoak said Hamburg residents are proud to be part of Hochul’s story and are cheering her on from home. “Kathy has demonstrated that she’s capable. She’s prepared,” she said. “She has a unique ability to balance strength and kindness as a public servant.”

Hamburg town councilman Shawn Connolly also grew up knowing Hochul. “From the first time I met her, I knew she was different. Being in politics for a while and meeting a lot of people over the years, there’s a lot of people interested, a lot of people want to be involved. But she was different. You could tell the level of energy, the level of passion, the commitment, the follow-through was off the charts,” he said.

“[Hochul] has the right mindset. She doesn’t have a big ego. She’s humble. She’s kind. She’s compassionate, but tough. There’s no doubt she’s tough. You have to be to do what she’s done in her career,” said Len Lenihan, a political analyst and former Erie County Democratic Chairman.

It’s been roughly a century since New York has had a Governor from upstate New York. Nathan Miller, who was from Cortland County, was the last one to take the reigns in 1920. “I know she could easily step into the role of Governor,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz ahead of Cuomo’s resignation. “I think it’s fair to say if that did happen, we certainly would have a friend in Albany.”

“It’s exciting for the region,” Gabriel agreed. “To have someone who is able to be on a national platform be able to really highlight the beauty of New York, the diversity of New York and all the different regions that makes us special, is really spectacular.”

Kathy Hochul isn’t the only one making history. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is set to become New York’s first Black female Lieutenant Governor. “It’s incredible to be able to see people who otherwise have been marginalized in their worlds and to be able to rise up,” Gabriel said. 

Political commentator Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook spoke about the impact she will have on the power dynamics shift in the Capital.

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