ALBANY, N.Y. Kathy Hochul paid tribute to New York’s illustrious history and shared an optimistic vision of the state’s future on the first day of her full four-year term as the Empire State’s first female governor.
As she was sworn in during an inaugural celebration steps from the state Capitol, the Buffalo native, dressed in suffragette white, focused on public safety, affordability, and equality.
“My faith in our future is rooted in our glorious past,” Hochul told a crowd of over 2,000 people at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. “We always persist, persevere, and triumph in the face of unprecedented adversity.”
The governor avoided outlining specific policy proposals, which she said would be unveiled during her State of the State address later this month, instead focusing on New York’s role in the historic fights for civil rights and women’s suffrage, vowing to honour the state’s legacy.
“This day belongs to the girls, to the young women who will grow up knowing that there are no real barriers they can’t overcome from this day forward,” Hochul said after being sworn in by New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes.
During her 30-minute inaugural address, the governor touched on some of the priorities her administration will pursue in the upcoming legislative session and beyond.
Hochul vowed to address public safety, population loss, and affordability, with a focus on communities of colour and equality, in a hopeful and unifying tone.
“Our people are in pain,” said the governor. “We must reverse the trends of people leaving our state in search of lower costs and opportunities elsewhere.
“We will fight the right fights. “To the core of my being, I believe there is nothing we can’t achieve together,” she added.
After being elevated to the position just over a year and a half ago, Hochul narrowly defeated Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in November to secure a full four-year term.
Hochul took over for Andrew Cuomo, who resigned under pressure following multiple sexual harassment claims. She previously served as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor for nearly seven years.
While serving out the final 16 months of Cuomo’s third term and competing in a closer-than-expected race against Zeldin, Hochul has already carved out a legacy that has been shaped in part by multiple tragedies and challenges during her tenure.
In the aftermath of a horrific race-fueled shooting that killed ten Black people at a Buffalo supermarket last spring, she pushed for and won stricter gun laws.
Simultaneously, she took steps to protect abortion access in New York in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, as well as navigating a contentious budget process that resulted in increased child-care funding, building up the state’s rainy-day reserves, and amending the state’s controversial cashless bail laws.
Hochul took over the government in the midst of a pandemic and had to deal with mpox outbreaks, a polio scare, and waves of coronavirus infections during her first months in office.
Before being elected lieutenant governor in 2014, the 64-year-old was a one-term congresswoman and former county clerk. She also implemented reforms to sexual harassment and ethics training procedures and policies for state employees in Cuomo’s wake, and vowed upon becoming governor to help people “believe in their government again.”
Her ability to achieve that lofty goal was called into question when her first choice for lieutenant governor was indicted on corruption charges earlier this year.
Brian Benjamin resigned as Hochul’s deputy in April after being arrested on federal bribery and wire fraud charges related to his time as a state senator. Hochul claimed he was caught off guard by the scandal and blamed it on a faulty vetting process.
Hochul’s first full term begins with her relationship with her fellow Democrats in the Legislature already strained, after a significant number of senators pledged to vote against her nomination of Hector LaSalle to lead the state’s highest court.
Opponents, including politically powerful labour unions, have argued that LaSalle as chief judge of the Court of Appeals would further the bench’s conservative bent.
During her speech, the governor mentioned the recent blizzard that killed 39 people in western New York and thanked first responders for their efforts during the storm.
The governor also spoke about her own childhood growing up near Buffalo. Hochul, the youngest of six siblings, graduated from Syracuse University and obtained her law degree from Catholic University of America.
She served on the Town Board of Hamburg, a Queen City suburb, for 14 years before becoming county clerk in Erie County and winning a special election for an open seat in Congress in 2011.
Hochul was joined at her inauguration by her husband, William Hochul, a former United States Attorney for the Western District of New York. During the ceremony, the couple’s two adult children and granddaughter joined them onstage.
The oath of office was also taken by Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Sunday afternoon.