New York’s first female governor sworn in as Cuomo leaves office in disgrace New York’s first female governor sworn in as Cuomo leaves office in disgrace
Backstories

New York’s first female governor sworn in as Cuomo leaves office in disgrace

    NHK General Bureau for America
    Senior Producer
    The first female governor in New York history, Kathy Hochul, was sworn in at midnight on August 24. She took over the state’s leadership from Andrew Cuomo, who resigned the office while mired in scandal.

    At 12:01 am, Hochul stood in the Executive Office at the State Capitol in Albany and became New York’s 57th governor. Her husband and children gathered around, proud to see her take the oath to lead one of the most populous states in the US.

    After the ceremony, the 62-year-old former lieutenant governor expressed her eagerness to move the state forward.

    “This is an emotional moment for me,” she said. “But it is one that I prepared for and I’m so looking forward to continuing the work we have to do.”

    Emphasizing her leadership style, she promised to change the culture at the Executive Office, which was tarnished by the sexual harassment scandal that brought down Cuomo.

    “I’m looking forward to a fresh, collaborative approach,” she said. “That’s how I’ve always conducted myself. It will be nothing new for me, but it’s something I’m planning on introducing to the State Capitol.”

    Governor Hochul’s first press conference
    Governor Hochul’s first press conference

    Cuomo’s Uneasy Exit

    Several hours earlier, Cuomo, 63, delivered a televised farewell speech to New Yorkers. He had announced his resignation two weeks prior while facing possible impeachment over sexual harassment allegations and other matters.

    “We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to, and we didn’t always get it quite right, but I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that every day I worked my hardest, I gave it my all, to deliver for you,” he said. “Thank you for the honor of serving as governor of New York. Thank you for allowing me to represent you. Thank you for empowering me to fight for you. Thank you for trusting me through COVID.”

    Former Governor Cuomo’s farewell message
    Former Governor Cuomo’s farewell message

    Cuomo gained worldwide renown for his leadership during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. His daily televised briefings earned him such recognition that he was awarded a special Emmy Award. But his downfall has been so swift and complete that, on the very day he resigned as governor, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences rescinded the award.

    Former Governor Cuomo giving his daily briefing on June 18, 2020 / Announcement by the International Academy on his special Emmy award
    Governor Cuomo’s daily briefing often included messages to all Americans and earned him an International Emmy Award

    Sexual Harassment Scandal

    Cuomo’s troubles began last year, when he was accused of deliberately misleading the public about the number of nursing home deaths from the coronavirus. He was also accused of breaking the law by using his office staff to help write a book touting his leadership during the pandemic.

    But his problems accelerated in December, when a former aide named Lindsey Boylan publicly accused him of sexual harassment. A few months later, a second former aide came forward with her own accusation. Then, in March, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into the accusations as calls for Cuomo’s resignation grew.

    The investigation took almost five months. On August 3, James released a damning report detailing the alleged offenses. The report found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, nine of whom were state employees. Each gave detailed accounts of how Cuomo would engage in inappropriate hugging, kissing, and touching, and how he would make crude or inappropriate comments.

    The former governor said he didn’t blame women for coming forward and apologized for his actions — although he has defiantly insisted that his behavior were misunderstood.

    “The facts are much different than what has been portrayed,” he said at a press conference. “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.” He did admit, however, that at times his “sense of humor can be insensitive.”

    Former Gov. Cuomo hugs his supporters
    Cuomo hugs a supporter in New York City last June after announcing that the state would reopen from the coronavirus shutdown (Maki Hatae)

    In addition to the sexual harassment complaints, the attorney general’s office was investigating Cuomo for undercounting the number of nursing home deaths and using state resources for his memoir. Many of his colleagues in the Democratic Party, including President Joe Biden, called on him to resign. Under pressure, he announced his resignation on August 10.

    “Given the circumstances, the best way I can help now is if I step aside and let government get back to governing,” he said in remarks streamed from his office in midtown Manhattan. “And, therefore, that’s what I’ll do.”

    His resignation became official on August 23 — nearly 10 years after he first took office on January 1, 2011.

    Cuomo’s resignation press conference
    Cuomo’s resignation announcement was carried live by TV stations across the US (Yohta Tomino)

    Cuomo’s Political Dynasty

    Andrew Cuomo was born into a politically connected family. His father, Mario, also served three terms as the New York governor, from 1983 to 1994. A respected and fiercely combative Democrat, the elder Cuomo was called a “liberal lion” during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and was once asked by the Democratic Party to run for president. However, he never ran for federal office. He died on January 1, 2015, shortly after his son was reelected for his second term as governor.

    Cuomo with his parents
    Andrew Cuomo with his father, Mario, celebrating his first election victory in 2010

    Cuomo’s political career began early. He served as deputy campaign manager on his father’s campaign for lieutenant governor in 1978. After graduating from law school in 1982, he was the campaign manager for Mario’s gubernatorial run and, later, executive director of the transition team. Cuomo then joined his father’s administration as an advisor.

    After serving as a New York assistant district attorney in the mid-1980s, he was appointed as chair of the New York City Homeless Commission and served under New York’s first African American mayor, David Dinkins. In 1997, he joined President Bill Clinton’s administration as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Cuomo with President Clinton

    After unsuccessfully running for New York governor in 2002, Cuomo became the state’s attorney general. He ran again for governor in 2010 and won. Throughout his career, he was known for his many accomplishments but also for a brash, hard-nosed approach and leadership style.

    Who is Kathy Hochul?

    All eyes are now on the relatively little-known Hochul. As lieutenant governor — essentially, the state’s second highest leadership position — she worked in Cuomo’s shadow since 2014, when she became his running mate for his second term as governor. They ran again in 2018 and won.

    Born in Buffalo, New York, Hochul studied law and began her legal career in Washington. She served as legal counsel and legislative assistant to renowned New York democrats like Congressman John LaFalce and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, according to her official bio.

    Hochul sworn in
    Hochul being sworn in as New York’s 57th governor

    Unlike Cuomo, who honed his political instincts working with his father, Hochul began her political career on a town council in western New York. She became a town supervisor, then served as the Erie County Clerk from 2007 to 2011 before going on to win a seat in New York’s 26th Congressional District. During her two-year tenure as a congresswoman, she was on the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

    Hochul understands that Cuomo’s scandals diminished the public’s trust in her office.

    “I want people to believe in their government again,” she said at her swearing-in ceremony. “It’s important to me that people have faith. Our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us in these offices, and I take that seriously.”

    Hochul addressing attendees after her swearing in, in the Red Room of the Capitol
    Hochul faces New York journalists after her swearing in

    On August 26, Hochul chose her own lieutenant governor. Showing a determination to diversify the cabinet, she picked Brian Benjamin, a Black Democratic state senator from Harlem. She’s also vowed a shakeup of staff in the Executive Chamber, as other members of the Cuomo administration were named in the attorney general’s report.

    Hochul will also have to tackle the lingering pandemic and economic recovery. She’s already shown decisiveness: During her first press conference as governor, she announced mask and vaccine mandates for schools.

    “We need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, at least for now,” she said. “To accomplish this for New York, we need partnerships with all levels of government, and I’m working now on getting this done."

    “Today, for the first time in New York history, a woman will enter that arena as governor,” she said. “I will not be deterred, and I’m willing to be bloody and marred in the pursuit of doing what’s right for the people of this great state.”