ALBANY, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday she was prepared to lead after Gov. Andrew Cuomo steps down.
Hochul, who is set to take the reins of power in 13 days, gave her first public remarks a day after Cuomo’s announcement that he would step down rather than face a likely impeachment trial over allegations that he sexually harassed several women, including one who accused him of groping her breast.
“While it was not expected, it is a day for which I am prepared,” said Hochul, a western New York Democrat who has held multiple offices but is unfamiliar to many New Yorkers.
Hochul said she planned to bring in new people to her administration and eliminate anyone “unethical” named in the attorney general’s report on Cuomo.
“Nobody will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” she said.
Cuomo, 63, announced Tuesday that he would step down over allegations that he sexually harassed at least 11 women, including one who accused him of groping her breast.
The nearly five-month investigation, conducted by two outside lawyers, found that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment” and that it was “rife with fear and intimidation.”
Investigators spoke to 179 people over the investigation, including complainants and current and former members of the executive chamber, James said. The team also reviewed more than 74,000 pieces of evidence, including documents, emails, text messages, audio files and pictures.
Cuomo has continued to deny that he touched anyone inappropriately and said his instinct was to fight back against claims he felt were unfair or fabricated. But he said that with the state still in a pandemic crisis, it was best for him to step aside so the state’s leaders could “get back to governing.”
That job will fall to Hochul, who served briefly in Congress representing a Buffalo-area district, but purposely kept a modest profile as lieutenant governor in a state where Cuomo commanded — and demanded — the spotlight.
A seasoned veteran of retail politics, Hochul shares some of Cuomo’s centrist politics, but is a stylistic contrast with a governor famous for his love of steamrolling opponents and holding grudges, state political veterans say. She’s well-liked by colleagues, who say voters shouldn’t confuse her quiet approach under Cuomo with a lack of confidence or competence.
“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down. It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers,” Hochul said a statement following Cuomo’s resignation. “As someone who has served at all levels of government and is next in the line of succession, I am prepared to lead as New York State’s 57th Governor.
It remains to be seen how involved Cuomo will be in state government over the next two weeks, or how he’ll manage handing over authority.
His circle of advisers has shrunk, but his closest aide and policymaking partner — Melissa DeRosa — made a surprise return to Cuomo’s side after having announced her resignation from the administration Sunday. The governor’s office said she will remain in her job as secretary to the governor until Cuomo departs.
Leaders in the state legislature have yet to say whether they plan on dropping an impeachment investigation that has been ongoing since March, and which had been expected to conclude in the coming weeks.
In addition to examining his conduct with women, lawyers hired by the state Assembly had been investigating whether the administration’ manipulated data on COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes and whether Cuomo improperly got help from his staff writing a book about the pandemic.
Republicans have urged the Democratic-controlled legislature to go ahead with impeachment, possibly to prevent Cuomo from running for office again.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the state’s handling of data on nursing home deaths. In addition, the state attorney general is looking into whether Cuomo broke the law in using members of his staff to help write and promote his book, from which he stood to make more than $5 million.
Cuomo’s resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal, after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes. Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.