Who is Kathy Hochul? What to know about Cuomo's lieutenant governor
As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deals with accusations of sexual harassment and criticism over his handling of coronavirus in nursing homes, attention is turning to his next in line, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, would assume governorship in the case of impeachment, resignation, or death of Cuomo. She would be the state's first woman governor.
A former member of Congress, Hochul supported abortion rights and same-sex marriage in one of the state’s more conservative congressional districts. As Erie County clerk, she once garnered attention for opposing a plan to grant driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, a plan Cuomo later embraced and helped pass a decade later.
Cuomo, who has been governor since 2011, has given no indication he is considering resigning. But he is fighting for his political life amid the dueling scandals, which includes accusations from three women that he sexually harassed them or otherwise made them feel uncomfortable.
In one case, former aide Lindsey Boylan accused him of delivering a kiss on the lips without consent.
In another, ex-aide Charlotte Bennett, 25, said he asked her probing, inappropriate questions about her love life while suggesting he would be open to a relationship with a woman in her 20s, according to The New York Times.
And in the third case, a woman said Cuomo asked to kiss her, grabbing her face with two hands after she removed his hand from her bare lower back, according to the Times.
Cuomo apologized Sunday for any comments that may have made female aides feel uncomfortable, saying, "I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm."
The Cuomo administration also faces a federal investigation for its handling of coronavirus in nursing homes. His office was found to have underrepresented COVID-19 nursing home deaths by 50%. The actual number at around 13,000, which is still slightly lower than most states compared with total coronavirus deaths.
The Sexual Harassment Working Group, which includes women who said they were mistreated while working in state government, said the public has learned enough about Cuomo’s alleged power abuses to know that he’s unfit to serve and must be resigned or removed from office.
Should Cuomo resign, Hochul would be sworn in as governor.
“We look forward to working with Lt. Gov. Hochul to improve New York's discrimination and harassment laws, and the related investigative processes,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
For her part, Hochul said Saturday: "Everyone deserves to have their voice heard and taken seriously. I support an independent review."
5 things to know about Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
- Hochul became Cuomo's running mate in 2014, when he won his second term. She's been lieutenant governor ever since, warding off primary challenges that year and in 2018.
- As lieutenant governor, she has spearheaded a campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses and represents Cuomo across the state in tours and other events.
- Hochul, in 2011, scored an upset win in a long-held Republican congressional seat in the Buffalo area with a special election. However, the next year she would lose her re-election bid by a slim margin after the district was redrawn to focus primarily on the largely rural, conservative areas between Buffalo and Rochester.
- Hochul holds a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and a law degree from Catholic University in Washington. She served as legal counsel and legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. John LaFalce and later Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
- During her summer vacation from Syracuse University, Hochul interned at the state Assembly, the Journal News/lohud.com reported in 2018. It was there that she met her future husband, a fellow intern named Bill Hochul, who would go on to be nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. He has since retired from the U.S. Attorney's office and later worked for Buffalo-based company, Delaware North.
Opposition to driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants
As Erie County clerk, Hochul garnered attention for opposing then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses without producing a Social Security card.
When later asked about the issue, Hochul said her decision at the time was based on what her constituents wanted.
“Fast forward to today, I realize that this is something that fits in with my earlier work to ensure the rights of citizenship to everyone who is here," she told the publication.
In that interview with The Journal News/lohud, Hochul said she didn't see herself running for politics despite being entrenched in politics and policy in high school and college.
The reason, she explained, was a lack of confidence.
"It’s something that women of my generation and some of other generations still experience," she said. "I didn’t have any role models. We were just women behind the scenes making the guys look good.”
Journal News staff writer Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy contributed to this report.