Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first public address Tuesday was relatively brief but stocked with a number of pressing priorities, none more urgent than the challenge of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. Given her historic breakthrough as the state’s first female governor, she cited that fact only once in her eleven-minute speech––Cuomo took fifteen minutes in his farewell address––and it was almost obscured in her list of important items on her agenda.
She was near the end of her speech when she said, “Today, for the first time in New York history, a woman will enter that arena as governor. As I undertake the weighty responsibilities before me, know that I have the confidence, courage and the ability to lead New Yorkers forward, and to make New York’s women proud.”
As she assumed the political helm in the state as the first woman, David Paterson became the first African American governor under similar circumstances in 2008 when the call girl scandal forced Eliot Spitzer to resign.
Hochul, 62, like Paterson, is well acquainted with the state legislature and her seven years in Cuomo’s shadow provides her with the experience she’ll need navigating the state’s huge budget and 20 million citizens. “You may not know me,” she said, “but I know you. In my travels to all 62 counties every year, I’ve walked your streets, met you at diners, supported your small businesses, listened to farmers, engaged local officials, and worked to revitalize long neglected downtowns.”
Even before she was sworn in on Tuesday, she announced two appointments. Karen Perscichilli Keogh, a former aide to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, will serve as her secretary, and Elizabeth Fine will be the counsel to the governor. These are indicators that Hochul is ready to hit the ground running to accomplish the four priorities she cited.
The state’s children commanded the top of her list. “For months, I’ve been consulting with parents, elected officials, teachers, school boards, and superintendents,” she said. “As a result, we need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly—at least for now.”
Increasing the vaccination rates for New Yorkers was her second major concern. “Much progress has been made, but too many are not yet vaccinated putting themselves and their communities at risk. With the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements.” She promised to have more to say and do about this issue.
Thirdly, she said booster shots must be prepared and available for distribution as quickly as possible. “When I consulted with Dr. Fauci last week, we discussed the urgent need to ensure vaccinated individuals receive a booster dose at eight months. I am prepared to do whatever is necessary, including reopening mass vax sites so that a booster is available to all New Yorkers who meet that timetable.”
Finally, she said, we got “to get this state working again—focused and without distractions. That begins with a dramatic change in culture—with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line. Today, I am directing an overhaul of State government’s policies on sexual harassment and ethics, starting with requiring all training be done live, instead of allowing people to click their way through a class. A new era of transparency will be one of the hallmarks of my administration. To me, it’s very simple.”
This change may have been a subtle commentary on her former leader and the line he crossed, pleading he was a man from another generation.
African Americans must have felt a warm affinity to her when she pointed out the need to be more aggressive in ending the “specter of ugly systemic racism.”
One of the grievances often posed by New Yorkers was the lack of transparency, and Hochul promised that her administration “will focus on open, ethical governing that New Yorkers will trust. I will direct State entities to review their compliance with state transparency laws, and provide a public report on their findings. I have instructed my counsel to come up with an expedited process to fulfill all FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests as fast as possible—and post completed requests publicly online. I will sign an executive order requiring ethics training for every employee of the New York State government—which, shockingly, is not required across the board.”
Her brief message may not be enough of an introduction for New Yorkers to know who she is but it’s certainly a promising preface of the chapters of her administration to come.