Governor-in-Waiting Kathy Hochul Prepares to Ascend. She Just Needs Cuomo to Leave
Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have resigned, but he’s not going anywhere for 13 days.
While two weeks’ notice is par for the course when a regular Joe quits a job, it’s an unprecedented span for a governor stepping down in disgrace — and not one his replacement-in-waiting is necessarily thrilled with.
In her first address to New Yorkers, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul stated Wednesday that Cuomo’s two weeks notice is “not what I asked for.”
“I’m looking forward to a smooth transition, which he promised,” the Buffalo native said during a news conference at the state Capitol in Albany. “He spoke to me about wanting to make sure that the transition to continuity is important.”
But there’s little precedent — and no formal rules — for handing off power.
And some Cuomo watchers say they’ll be watching his public moves closely in the days to come — especially amid uncertainty over whether the Assembly will move ahead with an impeachment process that could keep him from seeking statewide office again.
“This is not like getting a new president. There’s no playbook on how to resign in disgrace from office and make sure the next person has everything they need,” said Risa Heller, former Gov. David Paterson’s communications director.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer was the last New York governor to resign, facing impeachment in the wake of a prostitution scandal. He announced his intent to step down on a Wednesday in March 2008. By the following Monday, Paterson was sworn into office.
Unlike Paterson, who had a matter of days to prepare for the new gig, Hochul has had months, Heller noted. Calls for Cuomo to resign came to an initial crescendo in March, after allegations he sexually harassed former aides first surfaced.
Hochul, who represented Buffalo in Congress for two years, is slated to become New York’s first female governor, overseeing a state of 19 million people and a state budget of $212 billion.
‘An Orderly Transition’
A two-week runway is necessary to “ensure an orderly transition at this critical time where the key decisions still remain on COVID, the Delta variant and other significant challenges facing the state,” said Cuomo advisor Rich Azzopardi.
A fortnight also gives Cuomo time to find a place to live — he’s been residing in the governor’s mansion in Albany full time ever since he broke up with his longtime partner, celebrity chef Sandra Lee, in late 2019.
And the gap could give Hochul, whose term will be up at the end 2022, enough time to hire key staff and otherwise prepare before assuming office.
She already has plans to clean house of any Cuomo administration officials who were implicated in “doing anything unethical” in Attorney General Letitia James’ damning report that found the governor sexually harassed 11 women as his top aides worked to discredit some of the accusers.
“At the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” Hochul said.
While Hochul plans on delivering an address laying out her vision for the state once Cuomo is officially out of office, her staff is already in discussion with his top aides and state agencies are working on transition memos.
“I know this year and a half has been so challenging for families and businesses across our state. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s getting easier,” Hochul said, referencing rising rates of COVID-19 with next school year approaching.
“I know New Yorkers. They are hardwired to persevere and to prevail. And the promise I make to all New Yorkers, right here and right now, I will fight like hell for you every single day,” she declared.
‘A Person of Mischief’
Meanwhile, critics are raising their eyebrows at Cuomo’s long exit.
John Kaehny, executive director of good government group Reinvent Albany, said watchdog groups are calling the period “Cuomo’s 14 days of mischief.”
“Cuomo’s the guy who instinctively understands the importance of the new cycle and the fact that two weeks is an eternity in an era like ours,” Kaehny said, adding the outgoing governor will likely engage in “narrative protection and legacy protection.”
Kaehny also pointed to the legislation on the governor’s desk that awaits his signature: “There’s a real concern that Cuomo will try to make last-minute deals on behalf of his big donors or other favorite interests.”
Others are also concerned about what the politically Machiavellian Cuomo may be up to.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who investigated Cuomo for abruptly shuttering a commission he himself had empanelled to root out corruption in state government, issued a pointed rebuke Tuesday night calling the governor “a person of mischief.”
“I hope there’s nothing nefarious about the 14 days, but it strikes me as too long a period. You don’t have to give two weeks’ notice to resign as governor,” Bharara said on his podcast.
A Cuomo Comeback?
Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which is investigating whether there are grounds to impeach the governor, plan to meet on Monday to discuss the fate of their multi-pronged investigation.
The chair of the committee, Assemblymember Charles Lavine (D-L.I.), said Monday before Cuomo’s virtual address announcing his departure that moving forward with impeachment would be “moot” if the governor resigned.
“But there would be the opportunity in the court of impeachment to prohibit him from ever again occupying statewide office,” Lavine added.
Without such a prohibition, many political observers expect Cuomo could try to reclaim his seat in the future. With more than $18 million in his coiffers for a future run, he’s well financed to do so.
“Every announcement he might make in the next 14 days, 13 days, or every campaign that he does, if he does them, will be about remolding who he is and renaming himself in light of the details of the attorney general’s report,” said Karen Hinton, a former aide to Cuomo while he was at HUD who later accused him of inappropriate touching. “That’s his natural move: to recover, to redeem and to run for reelection.”
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