Hochul prepares to take over as New York's first female governor at tumultuous time

A former legal counsel, Hochul entered politics when she was elected to the Hamburg Town Board in 1994. Andrew Cuomo's resignation places her in line to be the state's chief executive in two weeks.

Updated: August 10, 2021 - 2:01pm

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Kathy Hochul is poised to become New York’s 57th governor, the state’s first female governor, and the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 2022 election.

She’ll assume this role in the wake of a series of scandals that led to the resignation of her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, and in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that continues to post challenges for the state even though it has long since shed its status as the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis.

Hochul, 62, has served as lieutenant governor of New York since Jan. 1, 2015. She was sworn in alongside Cuomo, who was beginning his second term, replacing former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. Duffy had opted not to seek reelection in 2014. Cuomo and Hochul were reelected in 2018.

Before serving as lieutenant governor, Hochul served a portion of a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011-13, having won a special election to claim the seat. She wasn’t able to hold on to the position in the 2012 election when her redrawn district, which includes the city of Buffalo, went instead for Republican Chris Collins.

A former legal counsel for federal lawmakers and the state Assembly, Hochul entered politics when she was elected to the Hamburg Town Board in 1994. She later served as Eric County Clerk from 2007 to 2011.

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, observers noted that Hochul was not a regular part of the leadership team Cuomo had assembled for his daily news briefings. Only when the governor traveled to the western portion of the state – the region where Hochul is from – did he include her in his briefings or make extensive mention of her role in the state’s response.

In a statement Tuesday following Cuomo’s resignation, Hochul seemed disinclined to offer much in the way of praise for her predecessor.

“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down,” she said. “It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers. As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th governor.”

If she does indeed run for reelection next year and claims the Democratic nomination, she would likely face Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin in the December 2022 election. Zeldin himself still must win the Republican primary, but the state Republican Party has already proclaimed him the “presumed nominee.”

Hochul has in the past run with the endorsement of New York's Conservative Party in local elections, but the party has opposed her since her first run for Congress. She's known as a moderate Democrat on many issues, especially gun ownership; she earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association during her reelection campaign in 2012.

Attorney General Letitia James praised Hochul in a statement Tuesday.

"The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day," James said. "… I know our state is in good hands with Lieutenant Governor Hochul at the helm, and I look forward to continuing to work with her," James said.