Hochul takes helm

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ALBANY (AP) — Andrew Cuomo defended his record over a decade as New York’s governor and portrayed himself as the victim of a “media frenzy” Monday hours before Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul became governor in a midnight transfer of power. Hochul is the state’s first female governor.

Cuomo, a Democrat, ended his term at 11:59 p.m., just under two weeks after announcing he would resign rather than face a likely impeachment battle over sexual harassment allegations. Hochul was sworn in just after midnight by the state’s chief judge, Janet DiFiore, in a brief, private ceremony.

In a pre-recorded farewell address released at noon, Cuomo boasted of making government effective in his years in office, cited his work battling the COVID-19 pandemic and struck a defiant tone on the harassment allegations. He said the report that triggered his resignation — a scathing account of what Attorney General Letitia James said was sexual harassment or inappropriate touching of 11 women — as “designed to be a political firecracker on an explosive topic, and it did work,” Cuomo said. “There was a political and media stampede.”

But he said prolonging his fight in office “could only cause governmental paralysis and that is just not an option for you and not an option for the state, especially now.”

Some critics jumped on Cuomo’s last remarks as self-serving. “100,000,000 opportunities to be a better leader. Chose himself every time. Goodbye, Governor Cuomo,” tweeted Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou,” a fellow Democrat.

The switch in leadership was happening in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Henri, which narrowly missed Long Island on Sunday but dumped rain over parts of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River Valley. The storm drew Cuomo back out into public view over the weekend, albeit briefly. He gave two televised briefings — warning New Yorkers to take the storm seriously with the same mix of scolding and reassurance that once made his daily COVID-19 briefings popular.

In a statement released to some news organizations, Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said the governor was exploring his options for what to do after he leaves office but had “no interest in running for office again.” Polling suggests Cuomo’s long-loyal base of Democratic voters has eroded this year.

But Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo senior aide who testified that the governor sexually harassed her, questioned Cuomo’s political ambitions given his $18 million campaign war chest. She asked in a tweet what the purpose of the money was “beyond to use smearing me and other survivors I mean, of course?”

Hochul, also a Democrat, has inherited immense challenges: COVID-19 has refused to abate. Schools are set to reopen in the coming weeks, with big decisions to be made about whether to require masks for students or vaccination for teachers. The state’s economic recovery from the pandemic is still incomplete.

Hochul will need to quickly build her own team of advisers who can help steer the administration for at least the next 16 months. She announced the appointments Monday of two top aides: Karen Persichilli Keogh will become Secretary to the Governor and Elizabeth Fine will be Hochul’s chief legal counselor.

She plans to keep on Cuomo-era employees for 45 days to allow her time to interview new hires, but said she will not keep anyone found to have behaved unethically. At least 35 employees in the governor’s office have left since February, according to staff rosters.

Hochul, who said she didn’t work closely with Cuomo and wasn’t aware of the harassment allegations before they became public, has vowed no one will ever call her workplace “toxic.” “I have a different approach to governing,” Hochul said Wednesday in Queens, adding, “I get the job done because I don’t have time for distractions, particularly coming into this position.”

Cuomo’s resignation won’t end his legal problems.

An aide who said Cuomo groped her breast and has since filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office. Separately, Cuomo was facing a legislative investigation into whether he misled the public about COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes to protect his reputation as a pandemic leader and improperly got help from state employees in writing a pandemic book that may net him $5 million.

Hochul has already said she plans to run for a full four-year term next year. She’ll do so as the state Democratic Party grapples with an internal struggle between moderate and liberal New Yorkers. Hochul, who once represented a conservative Western New York district in Congress for a year and has a reputation as a moderate, is expected to pick a left-leaning state lawmaker from New York City as her lieutenant governor.

State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs praised Hochul as “formidable.”

“She’s very experienced and I think she’ll be a refreshing and exciting new governor,” he said.

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