NEW YORK (NEXSTAR) — As New York’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul spent years on the road as the friendly face of the administration, visiting the far-flung coffee shops and factory floors of each of the state’s 62 counties for countless ribbon-cutting ceremonies and civic cheerleading events. Now, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing his resignation effective later this month, she will become the state’s first female governor.
Cuomo announced Tuesday he will resign over a barrage of sexual harassment allegations in a fall from grace a year after he was widely hailed nationally for his detailed daily briefings and leadership during the darkest days of COVID-19. The three-term Democratic governor’s decision will take effect in two weeks.
A centrist Democrat from western New York, Hochul has worked deep in Cuomo’s shadow for her two terms in office, but this week joined the chorus of politicians denouncing the governor after an independent investigation concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women while in office.
“I believe these brave women,” Hochul wrote, calling Cuomo’s behavior “repulsive and unlawful” in a statement Tuesday.
To many New Yorkers, Hochul is an unknown quantity, serving since 2015 in a job that is mostly ceremonial. A typical afternoon in late July had her announcing job training funding in Utica, discussing manufacturing in Rome and touring downtown Cazenovia with the small town’s mayor.
That has been nothing like the attention-demanding appearances of the determinedly high-profile Cuomo, who does most of his business in Albany and New York City and whose daily coronavirus briefings were national events at the height of the coronavirus.
Hochul has not been part of Cuomo’s inner circle of aides and allies. Her name wasn’t mentioned in the investigative report, released by Attorney General Letitia James, that detailed not only the harassment allegations against Cuomo but also efforts by his staff to discredit some of his accusers.
But at 62, Hochul is an experienced politician, a veteran of 11 campaigns that have taken her from town board to Congress, the latter representing a conservative western New York district after a surprising 2011 win in a special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. House.
“Pragmatic would be a good way to describe her,” said Jacob Neiheisel, an associate political science professor at the University at Buffalo. “Someone who is pretty good at reading the tea leaves and coming around to where her constituency is.”
Hochul released a statement calling Cuomo’s actions, as detailed in the attorney general’s report, “repulsive and unlawful behavior.”
“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.”NY Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Hochul is currently the highest-ranking female elected official in New York state. As lieutenant governor, Hochul chairs 10 Regional Economic Development Councils responsible for collectively investing $6.1 billion into more than 7,300 projects statewide.
She also co-chairs the state’s Heroin and Opioid Abuse Task Force and spearheaded the “Enough is Enough” campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
Hochul was born and raised in Buffalo. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a law degree from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
After serving as county clerk from 2007 to 2011, Hochul won a special election for the U.S. House seat in New York’s 26th Congressional District, flipping a Republican stronghold district for Democrats.
She served as a congresswoman through 2013 but lost her re-election bid.
While running for his second gubernatorial term in 2014, Cuomo announced Hochul as his choice for the lieutenant governor nomination after Robert Duffy decided not to run again.
Hochul and Cuomo won the election and were re-elected to a second and third term, respectively, in 2018.
Hochul has two children, Will and Katie, with her husband Bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.