As New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s political future remains in the balance, the focus has turned to his would-be successor.
As lieutenant governor for New York, Kathy Hochul will replace Cuomo if he resigns or is impeached in the current sexual harassment scandal.
If she succeeds her long-time political ally, she will not only be the first female governor in New York history. She will also be the most Irish-American New York politician to hold the position since Hugh Carey four decades ago, one of the “four horsemen” who propelled the nascent Irish peace process to the heart of the political agenda in Washington in the early 1980s.
Hochul’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland to America around 1919. Though both from Kerry, they met in Chicago, and relocated to Buffalo, New York. (Hochul’s maiden name is Courtney).
Her grandparents helped set up the Buffalo Irish Centre, a well-known Irish centre in upstate New York, and Hochul has often spoken about how Irish culture formed part of her childhood.
“That was a really formative part of who I am – that pride and that heritage. But also knowing it’s a responsibility for a lot of people left behind. Those of us whose families came to America were given a very special gift and opportunity,” she told Irish Echo magazine in 2019.
As the highest-ranking Irish-American in the New York State political system, she attended a 1916 commemoration event to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising.
A native of Buffalo, Hochul was elected lieutenant governor of New York in 2014 as Cuomo’s running mate and won re-election alongside him in 2018.
Previously she served in Congress, winning a 2011 special election for her New York seat in a traditionally Republican area. She lost her re-election bid in 2012 to her Republican rival.
Prior to taking up elected office, she worked as a lawyer and for New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, another Irish American, on Capitol Hill.
‘Repulsive and unlawful’
When allegations of sexual harassment against the governor first surfaced in March, 62-year-old Hochul said she would await the findings of the attorney general’s investigation. But following the determination by attorney general Letitia James that Mr Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, Hochul issued a statement, branding his behaviour “repulsive and unlawful”.
“Sexual harassment is unacceptable in any workplace, and certainly not in public service. The AG’s investigation has documented repulsive and unlawful behaviour by the governor towards multiple women. I believe these brave women and admire their courage coming forward,” she said.
However, she added that she would not be making any further comment as it falls to the New York assembly, under the state constitution, to determine the next steps.
With the state assembly now considering whether to move forward with impeachment, Hochul is one step away from the governor’s mansion. Should Cuomo be impeached, she would immediately replace him while his Senate trial takes place.
If he is convicted, she would then assume the role for the remainder of the term. And with politicians across the Democratic Party calling for Cuomo to go, she could become governor sooner rather than later.