As Cuomo Exits, Hochul to Take Office Minus ‘Distractions’

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo walks to his helicopter after announcing his resignation in Manhattan, Aug. 10. (Reuters/Caitlin Ochs)

Andrew Cuomo neared the end of his decade as New York’s governor Monday, as he prepared to relinquish his tight grip on government to Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in a midnight power transfer that will break another glass ceiling for women in state politics.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is set to end his term at 11:59 p.m., just under two weeks after he announced he would resign.

Hochul was scheduled be sworn in as New York’s first female governor just after midnight in a brief, private ceremony overseen by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore.

The switch in leadership was happening in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which narrowly missed Long Island on Sunday but was dumping potentially dangerous amounts of rain over parts of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley, even after it was downgraded to a tropical depression.

The storm drew Cuomo back out into public view over the weekend, albeit briefly. He gave two media briefings — warning New Yorkers to take the storm seriously with the same mix of scolding and reassurance that once made his daily COVID-19 briefings popular.

Perhaps if the storm had been catastrophic Cuomo might have been tempted to put off his resignation. But as the potential for danger diminished, he said there would be no change in his plans. “My final day is tomorrow,” he said Sunday.

Hochul, also a Democrat, will inherit immense challenges as she takes over an administration facing criticism for inaction in Cuomo’s final months in office.

COVID-19 has refused to abate. Schools are set to reopen in the coming weeks, with big decisions to be made about whether to require masks for students or vaccination for teachers. The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete.

Cuomo was also facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVD-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a pandemic leader and improperly got help from state employees in writing a pandemic book that may net him $5 million.

Cuomo has offered few hints about his plans or where he’ll live after leaving the Executive Mansion. He told New York magazine in a recent interview that he’s “not disappearing.”

Hochul will need to quickly build her own team of advisers who can help steer the administration for at least the next 16 months.

She plans to keep on Cuomo-era employees for 45 days to allow her time to interview new hires.

“I have a different approach to governing,” Hochul said Wednesday in Queens, adding, “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, particularly coming into this position.”

Hochul has already said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year.

She’ll do so as the state Democratic Party grapples with an internal struggle between moderate and liberal New Yorkers.

Hochul, who once represented a conservative Western New York district in Congress for a year and has a reputation as a moderate, is expected to pick a left-leaning state lawmaker from New York City as her lieutenant governor.

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs praised Hochul as “formidable.”

“She’s very experienced and I think she’ll be a refreshing and exciting new governor,” he said.