Gov. Hochul (photo: Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)
Governor Kathy Hochul is running in this year’s election, including this month’s Democratic primary, to win a first full term in the job she ascended to in August of last year. Hochul is seeking more time to fulfill promises she has made throughout her many months in office thus far and as she asks New Yorkers for their votes.
Since she took office last August after the resignation of disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state's first female governor has staked her early tenure on transforming the culture of Albany politics and shepherding New Yorkers through the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The people of this state want us to look forward and not backward. That's what my leadership is bringing to the people, to the state of New York, as their governor," Hochul said in the last of two Democratic primary debates attended by all three candidates on June 17. In the primary, Hochul is facing Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Hochul came into the race with significant advantages as the current office-holder with immense governmental and political powers, strong name recognition, and a massive fundraising advantage — Hochul has out-raised her nearest opponent four-fold and also has a strong lead in polls). If not for those, her fate as a candidate would more likely hinge on how well she has fulfilled her commitments so far and the vision she is setting for the coming months and years.
Hochul’s campaign platform, unsurprisingly, reflects the political agenda she has outlined as governor. It draws largely on goals set in her Day One address, January State of the State agenda, and executive budget, making it more extensive than the published platforms of her Democratic opponents. But Hochul has made few commitments or proposals on the campaign trail that she hasn't already made as governor, and she has not set out a four-year vision.
In stump speeches and official pronouncements the Buffalo native frequently rattles off a litany of accomplishments and works in progress. That list includes actions on healthcare, economic development, gun violence, education and childcare, government ethics, and more – many of them taken during the April state budget or the packed end of the legislative session that concluded early this month. As gun violence and abortion rights have dominated recent headlines, Hochul has discussed the package of gun control bills and reproductive health protections she signed at the close of the legislative session, while promising additional actions in light of Supreme Court rulings that just came down.
“We got so much done that had been hampered and unfulfilled for a decade,” Hochul said in her first primary debate appearance on June 7 of the gun control measures. "I've been the governor for nine months. I got it done in record time."
Hochul regularly touts large, long-term initiatives passed in the budget like a $25 billion, five-year affordable housing plan or a $10 billion healthcare workforce development project.
"You look at the short-term, the mid-term, and the long-term, and we are working hard every single day to try and solve this problem quickly," she said of the dearth of affordable housing around the state, during the June 7 debate. She also cited the recent enactment of legislation to foster hotel-to-housing conversions but would not comment on the failure of Good Cause Eviction legislation days earlier.
Despite spending $13.1 million over the last six months and having more than $18 million on hand, Hochul’s campaign does not appear to have made the effort to update its website since the end of the legislative session on June 4, where it boasts a number of legislative goals that never came to pass and calls for the passage of items that did indeed make it to the finish line.
For example, as of June 23 it said Hochul is "enacting two term limits for Statewide elected officials, banning outside income for Statewide elected officials, and replacing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with a truly independent ethics watchdog that answers to New Yorkers, not to politicians." The first two were not completed this year and, while Hochul and the Legislature established a new body to replace JCOPE, its members will continue to be nominated by Hochul and legislative leaders.
"The progress Governor Hochul has made during her first ten months in office is just the beginning," wrote Jen Goodman, a spokesperson for Hochul's campaign, in an email. "New Yorkers need a governor who is laser focused on delivering on the issues that matter most from gun safety to abortion rights to affordability and that’s why Governor Hochul is running for a full term."
Hochul came into office on the heels of scandal teeming around Cuomo and promised "a new era of transparency." A video featured prominently on Hochul's campaign website lists a number of steps the governor made in her first few months in office, including a commitment to government accountability. It ends with the slogan, "New governor. New day," attributed to an Albany Times Union editorial from her first day in office.
Hochul won praise from corruption watchdogs for transparency efforts early in her administration, like directing state agencies to expedite the Freedom of Information process. But she has been dogged by ethical questions, including the indictment and resignation of her first lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, on federal corruption charges. Questions also swirl around Hochul’s secretive and generous negotiations over the construction of a new Buffalo Bills stadium with $850 million in tax dollars. The deal also raised questions about Hochul’s lack of recusal given her husband is a senior executive of a major stadium concessions company that has the contract at the Bills’ current stadium.
Hochul addressed both topics at the June 7 debate, saying of Benjamin: “I promised the voters of New York and the people of the state that I would do everything I can to restore their faith in government and that was a setback.” She has said she undertook a stronger process with and is proud of her new lieutenant governor and running-mate, Antonio Delgado.
On the Bills stadium, Hochul has said there is no conflict of interest between her family and the stadium deal because she and her husband comport to high personal ethical standards. “I worked hard to structure the best deal I could to the benefit of the taxpayers,” Hochul said at the debate. She did not comment on whether her husband's company, Delaware North, should be barred from seeking a concessions contract in the new stadium.
In her short time in office, Hochul has been confronted with myriad challenges – from Hurricane Ida to the mass shooting in Buffalo, to the ongoing pandemic, housing affordability, inflation, the humanitarian crisis in prisons and jails, and a succession of U.S. Supreme Court rulings – to name only some. She has taken budgetary and legislative action on a number of fronts, including via the $220 billion state budget she negotiated and passed (though it was more than a week late).
With her administration assembled and her first legislative session as governor behind her, Hochul now wants four years to execute her vision, though she has provided few details as to what her plans are beyond what she has already put in motion or pledged to do earlier in her tenure but didn’t yet accomplish.
"I have put together a leadership team that is second to none, and it's mostly driven by women because they see the world very differently in a way that has not been part of a leadership team of the state in its history," she said at the June 7 debate.
Economy and Jobs
Hochul's economic recovery plan is focused on affordability for taxpayers, support for small businesses, and investments in growing industries like healthcare, life-sciences, and renewable energy.
She frequently talks about accelerating $1.2 billion in tax cuts to the middle class that were passed in previous years and enacting a temporary gas tax holiday this year. Hochul's website says the state is providing $100 million in relief to 200,000 small businesses and $1 billion in property tax rebates for 2 million households (checks from the state that prominently feature Hochul's name began to arrive in mailboxes this week, just ahead of primary day and amid early and absentee voting). It also touts a $75 million investment in childcare worker wages.
Asked at the June 17 debate whether she would include new state money for the Excluded Workers Fund in next year’s budget, Hochul claimed it was no longer necessary. "Excluded worker program was designed intentionally to be immediate relief for people suffering from the effects of the pandemic when their jobs were lost," she said of the roughly $2 billion program largely for undocumented New Yorkers locked out of massive federal pandemic aid. "People who worked in hotels or hospitality or in the entertainment fields, the jobs are coming back. So the temporary relief granted at the time is not needed [again]."
Earlier this year, Hochul pushed through generous subsidy packages for a number of industries. That included the Buffalo Bills stadium deal, a $1.3 billion, three-year film and TV tax credit extension, and a $10 billion tax break over 20 years for manufacturers of semiconductors used in microchips. Critics have decried the spending as giveaways to profitable corporations with few proven public benefits. Hochul has maintained the subsidies will create jobs and help spur regional economies throughout the state, while ensuring that industry and jobs stay in New York.
Hochul is proposing or implementing a number of infrastructure projects likewise intended to create jobs, stimulate the economy, and meet regional needs. Many of them will require years and billions of dollars to complete, as well as buy-in from numerous entities and the public.
She wants to build a new mass transit line connecting Brooklyn and Queens, using existing unused rails for one of three types of new transit. The volume of commuters between those two boroughs has surpassed travelers entering Manhattan from them, MTA Chair Janno Lieber, who supports the idea, told Gotham Gazette's Ben Max in a recent interview.
Hochul secured $1 billion to expand high speed internet in underserved areas and has discussed undoing the damage of past urban designs that blighted Black, Latino, and immigrant neighborhoods in the mid-twentieth century. Her website reads: "She is also focused on reconnecting neighborhoods across New York that were severed by asphalt highways, disproportionately impacting communities of color."
Hochul has also offered ideas for or promised to advance major transit projects, while pledging better management of the MTA. She re-nominated Janno Lieber as Chair and CEO of the MTA and has both taken clear state ownership for the mass transit systems it runs while providing support and limiting interference. She has put forth the Interborough Express for a new transit line (rail or rapid bus, TBD) connecting parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and she's slightly altered and pushed ahead a plan to redevelopment Penn Station and the surrounding area, while also moving ahead on other mega-projects that are much further along like the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, Gateway, Bronx MetroNorth expansion, and congestion pricing for Manhattan.
The center of Hochul's health-care plan is a $10 billion, five-year investment in health-care workforce development, to expand the labor market by 20%. The proposal includes $4 billion for wages and bonuses and incentives for recruiting workers from out of state. It also includes funding to make it easier to get a nursing degree.
The state budget included a 5.4% cost of living adjustment for human services workers, which won praise from labor groups and providers. The budget also included a higher minimum wage for home care workers.
Hochul was a strong supporter of continuing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers as well as masks in school, for a time.
"It's all about being ready, treating it like a military operation, and that's what I've already had to do during the time I've been governor," Hochul said at the June 17 debate of the ongoing pandemic recovery. She has said similar things with regard to preparing for additional covid surges or the next major disease outbreak.
After pressure from public health experts and legislators, and reporting from Gotham Gazette, Hochul announced her administration was launching a full after-action review of state government's response to the pandemic. The governor has said that the review will inform preparedness for the future.
Hochul has touted her support, as a member of Congress, for the Affordable Care Act and wants to reduce prescription drug prices. She has not publicly supported the controversial New York Health Act, which would create a statewide single-payer health-care system.
Guns and Public Safety
Hochul has signed several pieces of gun control legislation since taking office. Most recently she enacted a package of ten laws advanced in response to mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and elsewhere that would raise the legal age to buy an assault rifle, strengthen the state's Red Flag law, and make it easier for police to forensically trace bullets, among other things.
This past week Hochul vowed to call a special legislative session to pass additional gun control bills after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York's concealed carry law, and did so on Friday evening for June 30.
Much of what Hochul implicitly and explicitly promises to do if elected for a full term is to implement the programs and laws she’s passed in her short but productive time as governor, including better implementation of the Red Flag law, other measures passed or about to pass on gun control, violence interruption, and community interventions.
That also includes partnerships with other governors and New York City Mayor Eric Adams on a number of public safety initiatives, including on an interstate gun trafficking task force and Adams’ "Subway Safety Plan," which includes a greater police and social service-provider presence underground.
As part of the state's partnership with New York City on "subway safety," Hochul rolled out so-called Safe Option Support teams, which pair social service workers with the NYPD to push unsheltered people to seek city services. Those teams, in part funded by the state, will be in action as soon as the state bids out the contracts, Hochul said.
Her "Jails-to-Jobs" proposal focuses on education behind bars and re-entry employment. The proposal includes reorienting parole officers on career planning and coordinating DOCCS and the Department of Labor on workforce development reentry services. In the state budget, Hochul and the Legislature removed a ban on Tuition Assistance Program funding for incarcerated people.
In her State of the State agenda this year, Hochul also said she would propose legislation to expand so-called educational release, and a state constitutional amendment to allow "public-private partnerships that would enable hybrid work-release programs within prisons" that are "voluntary" and "would pay good wages." These were included in the Executive Budget but didn't make it into the enacted budget, according to administration spokesperson Shams Tarek, making for the possibility of another attempt next year depending on the election results.
Hochul also proposed to create some transitional housing for formerly incarcerated individuals and eliminate parole supervision fees, both of which did make it into the final budget.
"For far too long, formerly incarcerated New Yorkers have been forced to deal with the lifelong consequences of criminal convictions that deny them a second chance to reclaim their role as an equal member of society," her website said. Despite these sentiments and a State of the State commitment to "push to pass" the Clean Slate Act this legislative session, the governor and state lawmakers failed to advance the legislation that would allow for criminal records sealing of most offenses after time served and an additional waiting period without re-offense.
Hochul was a strong proponent of revising recent changes to the state's bail and discovery laws and age limits on criminal responsibility. Many of her proposed changes passed, including expanding the list of bail-eligible offenses. Hochul also successfully pushed for the expansion of Kendra's Law, which allows for court-ordered treatment for mental illness. Lawmakers did not give judges more full discretion to consider a defendant's "dangerousness" when setting bail, a measure supported by Hochul and others and rejected by many Democratic lawmakers and criminal justice advocates, but in passing some of Hochul’s proposals took steps in that direction given that judges can now incorporate defendants’ past arrest records and other factors.
Hochul has been a proponent of strong reproductive rights in New York, and became even more vocal since the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, a forecast that then came to fruition on Friday.
At the end of the legislative session earlier this month, the state passed a number of protections for abortion seekers and providers, but fell short of passing an Equal Rights Amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the State Constitution – something Hochul called for "this session" in her State of the State agenda back in January.
She also directed state agencies to change regulations to allow for abortions using medication to be conducted via telehealth and announced a state fund to pay for abortion services for those who cannot afford them, though she has said she does not support using state funds to help provide transportation and housing costs for those coming from out of state for abortions in New York.
Hochul has called for the creation of a "Patient Bill of Rights" that would include information on abortion rights. In September, Hochul asked Facebook to post information on abortion and block misinformation. Outside of the letter, Hochul does not appear to have exerted significant pressure on the tech giant in public.
Hochul's housing platform revolves around a $25 billion spending plan to create or preserve 100,000 affordable units over five years. That would include 10,000 units of supportive housing, which are designed to accommodate a range of needs of vulnerable populations and typically come with social services. Other details of the plan are fairly limited, but much of the money appears to go toward housing subsidies for new affordable housing or to extend the terms of existing affordable housing.
She regularly touts relief for renters and extending the pandemic-era eviction moratorium last year (she then let it expire in January). The state budget passed in April included $800 million more for the Emergency Rental Assistance Programs, $250 million to go toward "pandemic-related" utility debt for low-income households, and $125 million for the Landlord Rental Assistance Program.
Hochul has vowed to try again after failing to pass proposals that would lead to more (affordable) housing in the suburbs of New York City, which build very little new housing.
Asked whether she would have signed Good Cause Eviction legislation -- which would set major limitations on both evictions and rent increases on the private rental market, and died in the Legislature to the chagrin of housing rights advocates -- Hochul told debate moderators on June 17: "I am focused on what the Legislature gives to us then I'll analyze it," adding of the rent relief programs, "as I said, let's keep focusing on getting the money out the door as quickly as we can."
Hochul has set a number of clean energy goals, and, if elected to a full term, will be charged with implementing both her own promises and the mandates of the state’s major climate law, the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. As governor, Hochul has set out elements of a vision to reach the clean energy mandates of the CLCPA.
Her State of the State set goals to invest in wind, solar, and hydro-electric power, double the state's energy storage by 2030, create net zero emissions in state investment portfolios by 2040, electrify the state fleet and school buses by 2035, and phase out fossil-fuel plants in New York City, among many others.
In the state budget this year, lawmakers approved a Hochul-backed $1.3 billion increase to the Clean Water, Clean Air, and the $4.2 billion Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, which will go before voters in a ballot referendum this November. Hochul has made a series of clean energy project announcements since becoming governor and has major projects to see to fruition if she is elected to a full term, including two transmission lines from Canada and upstate New York that will bring renewable energy to New York City.
Hochul failed to find agreement with the Legislature on an environment-focused proposal to eliminate gas hook-ups in new building construction, which could make for a marquee plank if she is given a full term and returns to offer an agenda in January 2023.
Hochul has refused to comment on whether she will sign a two-year moratorium on new fossil-fuel crypto-mining until after the election. Opponents have called attention to the thousands of dollars in campaign donations Hochul and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado have received from Super PACs backed by crypto-currency executives who opposed moratoria on mining.
Hochul secured increases in School Aid in the budget this year, totaling $31.5 billion, including $1.5 billion in Foundation Aid increases, and hundreds of millions on pre-K and other programs. Hochul declined to seek any changes to school aid formulas despite critiques from some that the state sends too much money to wealthier districts and from others that the state should send more to those districts if they agree to reduce the property taxes that lead to the influx of local school funding that the former group of critiques says makes so much state aid unnecessary.
The budget also included over half a billion dollars in operations funding for SUNY and CUNY and another $2.2 billion for capital projects at the public university systems.
Hochul's campaign touts efforts to expanding early access to childhood education and plans for $2.1 billion in additional School Aid to go to public schools to hire more teachers, bus drivers, and support staff.
Hochul sought a four-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools but the Legislature only agreed to two years, in part because Mayor Eric Adams did not make a satisfactory case to legislators around his vision for the school system. Hochul is expected to sign that bill soon, while she has been non-committal about signing a companion bill that will mandate smaller class sizes in city schools.
Hochul completely avoided the charged issue of charter schools, even as the state's cap on charter schools in New York City has been hit.
Transparency and Government Ethics
When she came into office, Hochul promised a government-wide review of information sharing policies and the establishment of strong ethical guardrails. Shortly after, she directed state agency heads to report on their open government policies and ways to improve transparency, including speeding up the FOIL process. Good-government groups applauded that move, as well as her decision to publish a conflict of interest and recusal policy for matters involving the work of her husband. Then-Lt. Gov. Benjamin and Hochul's top aide, Secretary to the Governor Karen Persichilli Keogh, whose husband is a lobbyist at an influential firm, also signed recusal policies. All three are non-binding and self-enforced.
Hochul also promised to require ethics training for state employees following the cascade of sexual harassment accusations against Cuomo.
This legislative session, Hochul and the Legislature negotiated the replacement of JCOPE, the state's troubled ethics body. The new entity, like JCOPE, will be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders with a significant additional layer of input from the state's law school deans and other changes to improve its independence and teeth.
While promising a more collaborative and open relationship with the Legislature, Hochul upset a number of lawmakers for introducing and forcing through major spending and policy changes in the final stages of budget negotiations. Good-government groups called the budget process one of the most secretive in recent memory.
Hochul proposes instituting term limits on statewide elected officials but it did not pass.