In March, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was facing intense public pressure from fellow Democrats to resign in the wake of numerous sexual harassment allegations, his lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, would only issue a call to first let an investigation run its course.
Now that the investigation has concluded – and found the governor sexually harassed multiple women, which he denies – Hochul is in the unique position of publicly condemning Cuomo’s alleged behavior while being mindful that she could soon replace him if he is forced to leave office.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. The AG’s investigation has documented repulsive & unlawful behavior by the Governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women & admire their courage coming forward,” Hochul tweeted Tuesday. “No one is above the law. Under the New York Constitution, the Assembly will now determine the next steps. Because Lieutenant Governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment.”
For Hochul, a longtime Democrat, it’s a delicate balance. She’s served as Cuomo’s lieutenant for nearly the last seven years and would take over a state whose political landscape he has dominated for more than a decade. Meanwhile, Cuomo has made no indication that he will resign despite calls to do so from nearly every prominent Democrat in the country, including President Joe Biden, shifting focus to whether the Democratic-led Legislature will impeach him.
As a result, Hochul is preparing herself in case she needs to step in as governor, a state official told CNN. She’s cleared her schedule and has been in back-to-back meetings with legislators and advocacy groups on Wednesday.
Stands to be NY’s first female governor
Hochul, 62, would be New York’s first female governor if Cuomo were to resign or be forced out. A Buffalo native, she was first elected lieutenant governor of New York in 2014 as Cuomo’s running mate and won reelection alongside him in 2018.
Her old campaign website touts her work on raising the minimum wage in New York to $15, push for the state’s paid family leave law, and advocacy for women. She led the governor’s “Enough is Enough” initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses and co-chairs the state’s heroin and opioid abuse task force.
She first garnered national attention after winning a US House special election in 2011 for New York’s 26th Congressional District. The seat had long been considered safe by Republicans, who held the district for four decades until Hochul’s victory. The election was seen as a proxy battle over a then-House Republican proposal to reform Medicare.
While in Congress, she introduced the Clothe a Homeless Hero Act, which directed airports to deliver unclaimed clothes at airport checkpoints to veterans organizations. Her bill became law in 2013.
She lost her reelection bid in 2012 to former Republican Rep. Chris Collins in the redrawn district.
Before her brief congressional stint, Hochul spent roughly 18 years in local state politics, including 14 years as a Hamburg Town Councilmember followed by nearly four years as Erie County clerk.
Over the years, she has shifted from being a more conservative-leaning Democrat – previously opposing granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants as Erie County clerk and earning an endorsement from the NRA in 2011 – to backing more progressive stances on issues.
Her other past jobs include working at M&T Bank, as an attorney for a Washington, DC, law firm, and as legal counsel and aide to two former New York Democratic politicians – US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and US Rep. John Joseph LaFalce.
Hochul, along with her mother and aunt, in 2006 founded a transitional home in Buffalo for victims of domestic violence called the Kathleen Mary House. She told Politico in 2014 that her grandmother had been a victim of domestic abuse, which prompted her and her family’s activism on the issue.
How Hochul could become governor
A majority of New York state assembly members – 80 Democrats and Republicans – told CNN they would vote “yes” to impeach, if articles of impeachment are introduced.
If the Assembly votes to impeach, Hochul would become governor, stripping Cuomo of his decision-making abilities while he undergoes trial in the New York state Senate.
If acquitted, Cuomo would go back to the governor’s mansion. But if convicted, Cuomo would be removed from office, leaving the governing of New York state to Hochul.
The report released Tuesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James concluded that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, engaging in “unwelcome and nonconsensual touching,” and created a “hostile” work environment for women.
Cuomo denied some of the report’s allegations while claiming that other aspects of his behavior detailed in the report were taken out of context.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to the county for which Hochul once served as clerk. It is Erie County. It has also been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Paul Murphy and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.