The Empire State’s newly minted chief executive, Gov. Kathy Hochul, told New Yorkers that she wants them to “believe in government again” as she officially grabbed the reins of the state bureaucracy after a wave of scandals forced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo from office.
Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, takes over a state government that has been battered by the months of tumult that eventually resulted in Cuomo’s ouster, suffered a staff exodus at the Health Department as it attempts to battle the coronavirus pandemic and a “crisis” in the state’s flailing tenant rescue program, which she vowed to get on track.
“I want people to believe in their government again,” she said Tuesday during the short press conference that followed her ceremonial swearing-in at the historic Red Room in the state Capitol.
“It’s important that people have faith,” she continued. “Our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us in these offices and I take that very seriously.”
The looming wave of evictions from the pandemic is among the most immediate challenges facing Hochul, as the state’s federally funded tenant and landlord rescue program remains mired by delays, a glitchy computer system and a failure to get the word out about the effort.
“You’ve hit on one of my top priorities,” said Hochul, who called the ongoing failures a “crisis” and promised a “multifaceted response.”
“I’ll be assembling a team of individuals — beginning today — to assess this, but to wait not one second longer in how we get this relief out to people,” she said. “It’s there, it needs to be in their hands so they can get their lives back in order.”
A blistering audit by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli revealed last week that the rent program has only cut checks to 7,000 of the 168,000 families who have completed applications and that less than 4 percent of the money has been awarded.
Additionally, DiNapoli reported that just 114,000 out of 875,000 New York City households that likely need the aid had filed applications, indicating the state’s outreach and public awareness efforts have fallen woefully short.
Hochul also promised to improve the famously dysfunctional relationship between Albany and City Hall, which had almost entirely collapsed between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio during the pandemic.
Cuomo frequently big-footed de Blasio, whom he saw as incompetent and feckless, while Hizzoner complained that the governor’s notorious micromanaging style and bullying slowed the response to the pandemic and the vaccine rollout.
“We talked about this era of cooperation, that there’s to be no blindsiding, there’ll be just full cooperation,” she said, telling reporters that de Blasio called to give her the heads-up about its new COVID vaccine requirement for teachers and staff in the city’s public schools.
“I need his best and brightest to agree with my best and brightest and that’s how we’ll get through this,” she added.
Hochul’s press conference and ceremonial swearing-in took place 10 hours after Cuomo resigned at midnight and she took her official oath of office.
The transfer of power came two weeks after Cuomo announced his intention to resign, a stark about-face from his prior promises to try to hang onto power following a bombshell report from state Attorney General Letitia James that affirmed or uncovered accounts from 11 women that they were sexually harassed or groped by the former governor.
The ceremony and press conference lasted less than 15 minutes — and marked the beginning of a busy first day for the veteran upstate politician.
Hochul is also set to meet with the leaders of the Assembly and state Senate — Speaker Carl Heastie and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — and then offer a more formal address to the state this afternoon, according to her public schedule.
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