By Steve Bittenbender and Delphine Luneau | The Center Square
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying he did not want to be a distraction, announced Tuesday afternoon that he will resign as governor, with that move effective in 14 days.
When the resignation goes into effect, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become New York’s 57th governor and the first woman to lead the state.
The decision to step down comes one week after a five-month investigation overseen by state Attorney General Letitia James found that 11 women made credible claims that Cuomo sexually harassed them.
Even in the moments before he announced his resignation, the three-term Democrat fought back against the accusations, but he said ultimately that it was in the best interests in the state that he step down.
“It has been the honor of my life,” Cuomo said about serving as the state’s governor.
Cuomo faced more investigations than just the sexual harassment inquiry. He also was facing an impeachment investigation in the state Assembly that was looking at several allegations, including ones related to his administration’s management of nursing homes during the COVID-19 emergency, a $5 million book deal he received regarding the coronavirus, and allegations of safety concerns being covered up regarding the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.
On Monday, Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine said that it would take several weeks before lawmakers would vote on possible impeachment charges, laying out a scenario that would have taken months to conclude.
Hochul prepares to take over as New York’s new governor at tumultuous time
Kathy Hochul, 62, has served as lieutenant governor of New York since Jan. 1, 2015. She was sworn in alongside Cuomo, who was beginning his second term, replacing former Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy. Duffy had opted not to seek reelection in 2014. Cuomo and Hochul were reelected in 2018.
Before serving as lieutenant governor, Hochul served a portion of a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011-13, having won a special election to claim the seat. She wasn’t able to hold on to the position in the 2012 election when her redrawn district, which includes the city of Buffalo, went instead for Republican Chris Collins.
A former legal counsel for federal lawmakers and the state Assembly, Hochul entered politics when she was elected to the Hamburg Town Board in 1994. She later served as Eric County Clerk from 2007 to 2011.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, observers noted that Hochul was not a regular part of the leadership team Cuomo had assembled for his daily news briefings. Only when the governor traveled to the western portion of the state – the region where Hochul is from – did he include her in his briefings or make extensive mention of her role in the state’s response.
In a statement Tuesday following Cuomo’s resignation, Hochul seemed disinclined to offer much in the way of praise for her predecessor.
“I agree with Governor Cuomo’s decision to step down,” she said. “It is the right thing to do and in the best interest of New Yorkers. 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.”
If she does indeed run for reelection next year and claims the Democratic nomination, she would likely face Republican U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin in the December 2022 election. Zeldin himself still must win the Republican primary, but the state Republican Party has already proclaimed him the “presumed nominee.”
Hochul has in the past run with the endorsement of New York’s Conservative Party in local elections, but the party has opposed her since her first run for Congress. She’s known as a moderate Democrat on many issues, especially gun ownership; she earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association during her reelection campaign in 2012.
Attorney General Letitia James praised Hochul in a statement Tuesday.
“The ascension of our Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, will help New York enter a new day,” James said. “… I know our state is in good hands with Lieutenant Governor Hochul at the helm, and I look forward to continuing to work with her,” James said.