Kathy Hochul vows big change from toxic Cuomo administration, will fire unethical staffers – CNBC

New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that she is ready to take over as governor from Andrew Cuomo in two weeks, and vowed not to have a “toxic” workplace, as Cuomo allegedly has had for three terms.

Hochul also said she would get rid of any Cuomo staffer who was involved in “unethical” conduct in retaliating against at least one of the multiple women who accused the disgraced Democratic governor of sexual harassment.

“The governor and I have not been close,” Hochul told reporters at her first news conference, a day after Cuomo stunned the state with his announcement that he will resign later this month to avoid an all-but-certain impeachment.

“And when my term ends, nobody will ever describe my term as a toxic workplace environment.”

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a press conference at the New York State Capitol on August 11, 2021 in Albany, New York.

Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

Hochul also said, “I’m fully prepared to assume the responsibilities of the 57th governor of New York.”

Hochul, whose term as governor will expire in late 2022, said she had already held meetings and calls with members of the New York legislature, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., former Sen. Hillary Clinton, as well as business and faith leaders, and other governors of Northeast states.

“Over the next two weeks, I will continue meetings with current and potential Cabinet officials,” she said.

“I’ll build out my senior staff. And I’ll 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.” Hochul said she expects to pick her own lieutenant governor within the next two weeks, before becoming governor herself.

Cuomo, 63, resigned a week after a bombshell report issued by the office of state Attorney General Letitia James concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women, including current and former state workers, and presided over a “toxic” environment in the governor’s office.

James said Cuomo broke federal and state laws with his unwanted touching and sexually suggestive comments.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives to depart in his helicopter after announcing his resignation in New York City, August 10, 2021.

Caitlin Ochs | Reuters

The report also found that top Cuomo aides, including Melissa DeRosa, had retaliated against former government official Lindsey Boylan after she went public with her claims of being harassed by Cuomo.

He denied sexually harassing people, but conceded that some of his comments made women uncomfortable, and he apologized for that.

“Nobody named in that report doing anything unethical will remain in my administration,” said Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat who turns 63 years old later this month.

She refused to answer a question from a reporter about whether she would consider pardoning Cuomo if he is criminally charged in connection with his alleged harassment.

Five district attorneys’ offices around the state are known to be probing whether the governor committed such crimes in their respective counties.

“It is far too premature to even have those conversations,” Hochul said, regarding a possible pardon for Cuomo, whose conduct she described last week as “repulsive” and “unlawful.”

But Hochul did answer when asked if she will, as governor, release data about Covid-related deaths of nursing home patients in the state.

The Cuomo administration has controversially suppressed that data, even as Cuomo himself landed a multimillion-dollar book deal for his account of how he led New York through the coronavirus pandemic.

“My administration will be fully transparent when I’m governor,” Hochul said.

“I’m not governor yet.”

She said she had spoken to Cuomo about taking over as governor.

“I’m looking forward to a smooth transition, which he promised,” Hochul said.

“He spoke to me about wanting to make sure that the transition to continuity is important and that I have an opportunity to meet the Cabinet officials, other people as well.”

She said she had been unaware of the sexual harassment of women by Cuomo — or of the bullying nature of his executive office — but also said she had strongly advocated his administration’s policies.

“With respect to the particular environment and the reputation of the current of the current administration, I think it’s pretty clear and it’s no secret that we have not been close,” Hochul said. “And I’ve not been associated with that.”

But, she added, “I know the job, I fought for the same policies, that’s why I’m more prepared than anyone could possibly be for this position.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday at a news briefing that President Joe Biden expects to speak with Hochul in coming days. 

Biden is looking forward to working with Hochul to “continue to get the pandemic under control, to put the people of New York back to work, and to move forward as federal and state partners,” Psaki said.

Hochul revealed at her news conference that Biden tried to call her when she was on a plane earlier Wednesday.

Hochul became Cuomo’s second lieutenant governor in 2014.

She served the remainder of a single term in Congress after winning a special election in 2011, and before that held a series of local positions in New York.

Correction: Kathy Hochul served the remainder of a single term in Congress after winning a special election in 2011. An earlier version misstated the length of time.