Kathy Hochul, the first woman to become governor of New York state, has been sworn into the post in a private ceremony.
On the stroke of midnight local time, Hochul (62) was propelled from relative obscurity as lieutenant governor of New York to one of the most powerful and prominent leadership positions within the Democratic Party, as New York's 57th governor.
After her swearing-in, she told a local television station in Buffalo, WGRZ, that she felt “the weight of responsibility”, and promised New Yorkers: “I won’t let them down.”
After another ceremonial swearing-in on Tuesday morning, Ms Hochul made brief remarks. Asked what her greatest ambition was, she said it was to revive faith in government. “I want people to believe in our government again. It’s important to me that people have faith – our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us into these offices and I take that very seriously.”
She replaces Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic firebrand who was governor for a decade until he was brought down by a devastating report from the state attorney general based on sexual harassment accusations from 11 women.
Although he resigned following the report, Mr Cuomo denied the allegations, and he departed the office in characteristically belligerent fashion, lambasting the report that toppled him as a “political and media stampede”.
One of the first challenges facing Hochul will be to establish her governorship as a fresh start after the hostile climate that increasingly swirled around her predecessor. She has vowed to remove any Cuomo staffer found to have acted unethically and pledged that “no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment” – a reference to one of the key findings against Mr Cuomo in the attorney general’s report.
Ms Hochul’s first two major administrative appointments both went to women. Her new legal counsel will be Elizabeth Fine and her top aide, a position known as secretary to the governor, will be Karen Persichilli Keogh.
The biggest appointment on her to do list has yet to be made: that of her lieutenant governor. While Ms Hochul positions herself generally as a moderate Democrat – she spent a year in Congress in 2011 representing a relatively conservative and rural area of upstate New York – she has indicated she will pick a more progressive figure from New York City for the role.
Ms Hochul’s advancement brings the total number of female governors in the US to nine – tying a record set in 2004 and repeated in 2007 and 2019. As Associated Press pointed out, a century after women won the vote, 19 states have yet to be led by a woman.
Ms Hochul's stature as the first female governor of New York may earn her a honeymoon period in the job, but such are the pressures bearing down on her it may not last long. As the Delta variant is causing yet another surge in Covid cases, and with the Pfizer vaccine given full federal approval on Monday, Ms Hochul faces calls to make vaccinations mandatory for all state employees.
She is also facing ongoing economic turmoil amid the pandemic, with the state suffering the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country. – Guardian