Former Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul ascended to New York’s top office this week – and made history – when she was sworn in as the first woman to become the state’s governor. The Democrat from western New York inherits a full agenda, including the challenge of reshaping an administration impacted by allegations of sexual harassment by disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In her first major TV interview since becoming governor, Hochul joined “Morning Joe” on Wednesday to discuss her plans for addressing workplace harassment, how the women in her family shaped her leadership style and why she never planned out her career after the age of 50.
“We are all products of our family story,” Gov. Hochul told “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder, Mika Brzezinski. “I was blessed to have such strong women in my history – a grandmother who left Ireland fleeing great poverty as a teenager [and] came here with nothing. She worked as a domestic in Chicago under difficult circumstances, and then raised a family of eight while her husband worked at a steel plant.”
Hochul credited her grandmother as her ultimate sources of strength, especially when embracing risk. “That’s not an extraordinary story, but it’s why I believe in being a risk-taker. People leave a country and come to a whole new world not knowing what’s going to happen, but also [they have] this intense focus on family and faith.”
For Hochul, it was her mother who introduced her to the possibilities of public service. “She dedicated her life to others because she was so empathetic. That’s one of the traits I draw from my mom, being involved in social causes, back when she was in her 20s and 30s dragging me to rallies, protests, civil rights initiatives,” Hochul recalled. “I didn’t come out of a political family, but I came from a family who knew they had to care about their community.”
When Brzezinski pressed the new governor on her commitment to eradicate the culture of harassment that was allegedly rampant in the Cuomo administration, Hochul noted those individuals who were named in the state attorney general’s report investigating those claims were no longer with her office.
“It’s over, none of this is going to be accepted,” she added. “I’ve surrounded myself with talented, young women and I want them to be the role models to others that this is a place where people work with their heart, passion and bring good services to the public, but also it’s a culture where they’re going to be OK.”
Hochul responded similarly when asked about the employees involved in Cuomo’s handling of data around the state’s Covid-19 nursing home deaths. “I’ll be taking an approach that’s very different,” she told “Morning Joe” co-host Joe Scarborough. “We’re now releasing more data than had been released before publicly, so people know the nursing home deaths and the hospital deaths are consistent with what’s being displayed by the CDC … Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration.”
In the lead up to Hochul’s 63rd birthday on Friday, Brzezinski referenced Know Your Value’s “50 Over 50” partnership with Forbes, celebrating women over 50 who have achieved remarkable success later in life. She asked the new governor if she ever imagined as a young woman what her career would look like after 50.
“When I was a teenager, [in] social studies class in my public school, I learned about government,” Hochul began. “I decided at age 13 – and no one in my family is in politics or law – but I wanted to be a lawyer so that one day I could work as a top aide to a U.S. senator. By the time I was 27 I was an attorney on the staff of Sen. [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan.”
Beyond that, Hochul admitted she had no further plan, except to be ready for new opportunities and focus on the job at hand. “I don’t have a Plan B, I don’t know what I’m doing career-wise next, other than I’m going to be the best damn governor this state has ever seen.”