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Well-liked by Westchester’s community leaders, New York’s first female governor-to-be is known as a champion of local government.
by Ryan J. Degan
In 2015, now New York Lt. Gov.Kathy Hochul spent two hours going door-to-door on E. Hartsdale Avenue in Greenburgh to speak with local merchants, doing so in an effort to get to know the needs of local business owners.
Accompanied by Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, she made an effort to speak with every merchant in the area, answering questions about current affairs and listening to what they said were the most pressing issues facing their business community.
Hochul is set to become New York’s first female governor on Aug. 24 — following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in response to a report by the New York State Attorney General that details acts of sexual harassment committed against nearly a dozen women — and according to many leaders throughout Westchester County, she will bring a level of dedication and open communication to Albany that has been sorely missed.
“Hochul is one of the most sincere and, I want to say, adamant, but just engaged elected officials I have ever known and I’ve known a lot,” said Dr. Marsha Gordon, President of the Business Council of Westchester. “Every time we’ve gone to Albany for our lobbying days, she’s always made time in her schedule to meet with us, to listen to the concerns, particularly of small business owners. She’s from a small-business background, so small businesses are very, very important to her.”
Praising Hochul for her interest in the Westchester business community, Gordon said that Hochul can regularly be seen at local business meetings, offering a guiding hand for dealing with various issues alongside a friendly smile and words of encouragement.
And Gordon is not alone in her praise for Hochul’s helpful and friendly attitude; in fact, by all accounts, Hochul is exceptionally well-liked by area leaders and seen as a champion of local government — due in no small part to a rigorous travel schedule that sees her visiting communities throughout the state.
“She understands the role of local government and so I think I’m really looking forward to a strong relationship between the future governor and the local governments. She’s very down to earth; the word that I use for her is genuine,” said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach.
“Anyone active in the New York Conference of Mayors has met her because she always comes, and she makes time for everybody. I don’t think you’ll hear a negative word about her from either side of the political spectrum from someone that’s a mayor,” added Roach, who formerly served as President of the New York Conference of Mayors.
Starting off her career in local politics, Hochul served as a member of the Hamburg Town Board from 1994 to 2007, before becoming the County Clerk of Erie County from 2007 to 2011. After a two-year stint as the first Democrat to represent New York’s 26th congressional district in 40 years, she became Lieutenant Governor under Cuomo in 2014.
Perhaps it is due to this experience in local government, but on the likability index, there are few candidates, if any, who seem to rank higher than Hochul among local leaders.
“I am excited about her becoming Governor. She is approachable, not arrogant, [and] has experience working in municipal and county governments. I think she’ll be a good listener and will work cooperatively with local officials. I think government decision-making, during her tenure, will be more of a partnership with local governments – more give and take. I have high hopes for the Governor-to-be,” Feiner said.
“Westchester County, and my administration, stand ready to work with incoming Governor Kathy Hochul when she assumes the governorship later this month. For years, incoming Governor Hochul has been a welcomed presence in Westchester County,” chimed in Westchester County Executive George Latimer. “She is well qualified to lead New York State in this immediate crisis.”
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) characterized Hochul as a “dedicated leader” in a statement regarding Cuomo’s resignation, in which she envisioned working with Hochul in her new capacity. “We will continue to address the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild our economy, and face our challenges standing together,” she said. “United, we will get the people’s work done.”
People seem to genuinely like Hochul; even potential Republican opponents have few bad words to say about her. Those that do are more concerned by fears of what she may do — some are afraid she will drift farther left to appease progressive voters in New York City — than her actual record.
Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) for example, said that he’s gotten to know her at public ceremonies and has come to view her as a type of “retail politician” who has often been “marginalized” by Gov. Cuomo. He added that he is maintaining a cautious but hopeful attitude about her ascension to governor.
“I would say considering the cloud of scandal and corruption around (Cuomo), having him step out, this is an improvement. But I’m not going to celebrate just yet,” Byrne said.
“There’s an opportunity here, a very important opportunity, to start fresh. (However),I am cautious about it because I know she wants to run now and is going to try to appease a more liberal base out of New York City and that should be concerning,” he added.
Even former Westchester County Executive and current gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, a Republican, said his relationship with Hochul was always cordial while he was in office and any concerns he has relate to how closely she will follow Cuomo’s policies as governor — this coming after Hochul’s announcement that she is campaigning to win a full term as governor during next year’s election.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
But while leaders enjoy working with Hochul and are looking forward to seeing what she does as governor, what she intends to do seems to remain an unanswered question.
Local officials who support her seem to almost universally use the word “genuine” to describe her, but when asked what her priorities for the state will be there are as many answers as people asked. Some were adamant that childcare would be her keystone issue as governor, while others mentioned taxation, the environment, or women’s issues.
While Hochul has also become a more left-leaning Democrat in recent years, when serving in the conservative Erie County she gained a reputation for being similar to a moderate “Blue Dog Democrat” who supported some conservative policies. On issues that were particularly sensitive to liberals, Hochul previously opposed then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to allow undocumented immigrants’ driver’s licenses and when running against a Republican for congress in 2012 was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
She has since explained that she has evolved on many of these issues — she supported an initiative by Gov. Cuomo to allow undocumented immigrants driver’s licenses while lieutenant governor — and that she has shifted some of her stances as she has moved up the chain.
Some of her past stances may have been closer to center than left, but she has championed Democratic policies such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage.
One thing that officials do seem certain of, however, is that she will create a drastically different culture in Albany and will bring about a sharp turn away from the toxicity and bullying created by her predecessor.
In her first public address since being tapped as Cuomo’s replacement, she promised to work with officials at every level of government to govern in a way that reflects the needs of New Yorkers. She has further promised to continue the progress New York has seen in recent years.
“While it was not expected, it is a day for which I have prepared. I’ve already spoken with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Carl E. Heastie, labor, business, and faith leaders, other state elected officials as well as our tri-state governors. I look forward to working with each and every one of them and all of you to build on the progress we have already started,” she added.
“I will do what I’ve always done, I will travel the state to meet New Yorkers, to listen to them, to assure them that I’ve got their backs,” she added. “The promise I make to all New Yorkers, right here and right now, [is that] I will fight like hell for you every single day like I’ve always done and always will.”
Ryan J. Degan is a freelance reporter living in Brooklyn. A passionate journalist originally from the California Bay Area, he enjoys writing about local politics, city planning, and social issues. He can most often be found running laps around Prospect Park or exploring the five boroughs in the search for the perfect slice of pizza.
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