Kathy Hochul became the first woman to be sworn in for a full term as New York’s governor on Sunday, a historic moment she said she would take to lead a state facing crime worries and an affordability problem.
In her first inaugural speech, Ms. Hochul briefly thanked other New York women who had created history before her, including Harriet Tubman and Hillary Clinton, before focusing on the “noble pursuits” and battles she said she would engage in during the following four years.
Shortly after being sworn in at an Albany convention centre, Ms. Hochul said, “I didn’t come here to create history.” “I came here to affect change.”
Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat from the Buffalo region, took the oath of office two months after winning New York’s closest campaign for governor in decades. In one of the most liberal states in the country, Ms. Hochul defeated her Republican opponent, Representative Lee Zeldin, by only six percentage points. The race was largely characterised by voter agitation over crime spikes and the rising cost of living, issues on which Mr. Zeldin attacked the governor.
Ms. Hochul said on Sunday that she would prioritise tackling many of the same issues — including safety and cost — that spurred the wave of anger in November against the Democrats, who hold all three levers of power in Albany.
At the same time, Ms. Hochul, 64, used her address to emphasise social topics favoured by progressives, who credited her for reviving the governor’s faltering campaign in its last weeks. And she underlined the need to protect the right to abortion, an issue that helped energise many Democrats after the June overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.
These words were applauded by a throng of well-wishers and Albany power brokers who filled the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in downtown Albany, near to the stately state Capitol Building.
Before the ceremony, an underpowered string quartet played over the chatter of New York’s power brokers, of whom just a few donned masks, a symbol of the state’s solid, though sluggish, recovery from Covid-19.
In fact, Ms. Hochul referred to “the lasting impacts” of the epidemic, implying that it was partially responsible for educational and economic upheavals in the state, including “mental health issues and rises in crime.”
The governor, who is slated to present a proposal to create 800,000 additional housing units over the next decade later this year, said that high housing and energy expenses “make living just too darn difficult for New Yorkers.” She vowed to reverse the state’s population decline by establishing employment and economic possibilities inside the state.
She said, “New Yorkers are just struggling to afford rent, food, and gas to go to work.” They are in pain.
Without providing details, she pledged to combat hate crimes and gun violence so that “New Yorkers may walk our streets, ride our subways, and send our children to school without fear.”
Ms. Hochul is likely to reveal her policy vision in further depth during her State of the State speech later this month, as well as in her budget proposal, which generally serves as a vehicle for passing a variety of nonfinancial policy objectives in Albany.
Passing her agenda, however, would need cooperation with Democrats in the State Legislature, who command veto-proof supermajorities in both houses and have powerful blocs of legislators who are to Ms. Hochul’s left on a variety of policy issues.
It is unknown, for instance, whether Ms. Hochul would seek more modifications to the state’s problematic bail regulations this year, as New York City Mayor Eric Adams has requested — a move that would result in another confrontation with Democratic legislators. Mr. Adams attended the event on Sunday, along with Senator Chuck Schumer, who administered the oath of office to the state attorney general, Letitia James. The state comptroller, Thomas B. DiNapoli, and lieutenant governor, Antonio Delgado, were also sworn in. Each individual is a Democrat.
Ms. Hochul will begin the next legislative session at odds with left-leaning Democrats in the State Senate over her nomination for chief judge. At least a dozen state senators, including the deputy majority leader of the upper house, Michael Gianaris, have stated in recent days that they would vote against the confirmation of her nominee, Hector LaSalle.
The overwhelming resistance has put Ms. Hochul’s candidature in grave peril, increasing the potential that Ms. Hochul, who has up until now stuck by her decision, may be forced to withdraw the nomination and face a humiliating political setback at the start of her first full term.
Ms. Hochul, a former congressman, made history as the first female governor in the state and the first governor from western New York in more than a century, and she swiftly relocated to Albany to establish her reputation.
In her first 500 days in office, she accomplished a number of policy goals, including the passing of a $220 billion state budget and reforms to the state’s bail and gun laws, as well as establishing a more amicable rapport with fellow Democrats who dominate the State Legislature.
Casting herself as an executive above the storm and a soothing presence following Mr. Cuomo’s aggressive leadership and abrupt demise, Ms. Hochul promptly declared her quest for a full term and positioned herself as the de facto head of the state Democratic Party. She generated record-breaking campaign donations and went on to win resoundingly in a three-way primary in the summer of 2016.
Ms. Hochul was set to comfortably win the general election in a state where the number of Democratic voters greatly outnumbers the number of Republicans. But Mr. Zeldin tapped into anxieties about crime and launched a robust campaign, propelled by the backing of independent and suburban voters, as well as a sizeable portion of New York City Democrats who looked to be concerned about public safety.