Five Questions for Kathy Hochul, New York’s New Governor

Issue 266

Kathy Hochul gets a fresh start after languishing for years as Cuomo’s Lt. Gov. How she will govern remains unclear.

Theodore Hamm Sep 16, 2021

Kathy Hochul has had a busy month since being sworn in on August 24th as New York’s first female governor. She has presided over the response to Hurricane Ida, signed an extension to the statewide eviction moratorium and jumpstarted cannabis legalization by appointing members of the state board that will oversee the process, something her predecessor had neglected to do. But many questions remain about how the former Buffalo-area congresswoman will govern and in whose interest.

1) How does she handle Cuomo holdovers, especially those she can’t fire? Hochul can replace commissioners (e.g., Dr. Howard Zucker, who presides over the Department of Health) but not the heads of state authorities (e.g., the MTA) and other entities with boards that choose their leadership (e.g., SUNY). Hochul can ask for resignations, but the Cuomo cronies can ignore the requests. If she wants to play hardball, she can threaten to cut funding for special projects, such as the MTA’s wasteful AirTrain to LaGuardia.

2) How much public money does Hochul direct to the owners of the Buffalo Bills, who want to build a new stadium? Hochul, of course, is from Buffalo, and the Bills are extremely popular in Western New York. (India Walton, the socialist mayoral frontrunner in Buffalo, shows plenty of enthusiasm for the team.) The matter is complicated by the fact that Hochul’s husband is counsel for Delaware North, a gaming and hospitality company that holds the concessions contract for the Bills.

3) Will Hochul follow through on Cuomo’s promises regarding commuting sentences? In 2015, Cuomo declared that he was creating a “clemency project” that would review requests on a quarterly basis. After raising expectations, Cuomo proceeded cautiously, announcing only handfuls of commutations and clemencies at the end of the year (and on his way out of office). Hochul’s selection of Harlem state senator Brian Benjamin to be her successor as lieutenant governor suggests that she is sympathetic to criminal justice reform.

4) How will Hochul respond to calls to increase taxes on the 1%? Spurred by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Tax the Rich campaign produced significant gains during this year’s budget battle. But those successes came amid the sexual harassment scandal, with the chief executive dealing from a position of weakness. Hochul’s interest in winning the Democratic primary next year suggests that she’ll respond favorably to the demands of the 99%. Whether Hochul retains Cuomo’s budget director Robert Mujica, a Republican austerity proponent, will reveal her hand.

5) How will Hochul handle the demands of New York City’s leading developers? These high-rollers loved Cuomo so much that they pumped nearly $500,000 into his campaign coffers amid this year’s scandal. But if Hochul supports increased taxes or ending the 421-A program that creates a large tax break for developers if they include affordable units, she will incur the enmity of Extell and company. Much will depend on who runs in the June 2022 Democratic primary against Hochul.

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