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Kathy Hochul profile: The 'scrappy' Irish-American who will be New York's first female governor

Kathy Hochul is taking the reins after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s shock resignation this week.

Image: PA Images

KATHY HOCHUL, A New York Democrat unfamiliar to many people in the state even after six years as its lieutenant governor, is to begin reintroducing herself to the public as she prepared to take the reins of power after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.

Hochul, aged 62, in two weeks will become the state’s first female governor, following a remarkable transition period in which Cuomo has said he will stay on and work to ease her into a job that he dominated over his three terms in office.

Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Co Kerry, with her website stating that they “fled poverty in Ireland” over 100 years ago. Her grandfather worked as a migrant worker in the wheat fields of South Dakota, then went into domestic servitude in Chicago, before moving to work Lackawanna Steel Plant in Buffalo, New York.

Hochul says that her upbringing with “progressive” parents is part of the reason she holds the values she does.

She stayed out of public sight yesterday but said in a statement that she was “prepared to lead.” Hochul planned to hold her first news conference this afternoon at the State Capitol.

Cuomo, aged 63, gave the shock announcement yesterday that he would step down rather than face a likely impeachment trial over allegations that he sexually harassed at least 11 women, including one who accused him of groping her.

Cuomo has continued to deny that he touched anyone inappropriately, and said his instinct was to fight back against claims he felt were unfair or fabricated. But he said that with the state still in a pandemic crisis, it was best for him to step aside so the state’s leaders could “get back to governing”.

A profile of Hochul

That job will fall to Hochul, who served briefly in Congress representing a Buffalo-area district, but purposely kept a modest profile as lieutenant governor in a state where Cuomo commanded the spotlight.

Her website states that Hochul was born and raised in a blue-collar Irish Catholic family in Buffalo “that instilled a deep passion for public service and activism”.

“I will say like all good Irishmen and Irishwomen, I love a good fight,” she said in a St Patrick’s Day message on Facebook. “Especially if it’s for the people of my beloved state.

We may have poetry in our hearts, but we are scrappy. We know how to survive adversity, we never back down from a battle for what is right, even against all the odds. And we love the underdog, because the Irish have been underestimated throughout our history.

A seasoned veteran of retail politics, Hochul shares some of Cuomo’s centrist politics, but is a stylistic contrast with a governor famous for his love of steamrolling opponents and holding grudges. She’s well-liked by colleagues, who say voters should not confuse her quiet approach under Cuomo with a lack of confidence or competence.

“Kathy Hochul will be an extraordinary governor,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, another upstate political veteran, told reporters at the US Capitol. “She understands the complexities and needs of our state, having been both a congresswoman and having been lieutenant governor for the last several years.”

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What next for Cuomo?

It remains to be seen how involved Cuomo will be in state government over the next two weeks, or how he will manage handing over authority — something he rarely ceded during his time in office.

His circle of advisers has shrunk, but his closest aide and policymaking partner, Melissa DeRosa, who was a familiar face at Cuomo’s side during his televised briefings on New York’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, made a surprise return after having announced her resignation from the administration on Sunday. The governor’s office said she will remain in her job as secretary to the governor until Cuomo departs.

Leaders in the state legislature have yet to say whether they plan on dropping an impeachment investigation that has been ongoing since March, and which had been expected to conclude in the coming weeks.

In addition to examining his conduct with women, lawyers hired by the state Assembly had been investigating whether the administration manipulated data on Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes and whether Cuomo improperly got help from his staff writing a book about the pandemic.

Republicans have urged the Democratic-controlled legislature to go ahead with impeachment, possibly to prevent Cuomo from running for office again.

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