A day after Kathy Hochul made history by becoming New York's first female Governor while pledging "open, ethical government that New Yorkers will trust," she found herself in a more-traditional woman's role: cleaning up a mess left behind by a man.
At her direction, the state Department of Health issued revised numbers showing that 55,395 New Yorkers had died of the coronavirus as of Aug. 24—nearly 12,000 more than had been listed by Andrew Cuomo at the time he resigned shortly after midnight that day.
Part of Federal Probe
One of the subjects being examined by Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn who are investigating the disgraced former Governor is whether he manipulated death statistics regarding nursing homes to help secure a $5.1-million advance for a memoir last year that focused on his efforts to get the pandemic under control.
"We're now releasing more data than had been released before, publicly, so people know the nursing-home deaths are consistent with what's being displayed by" the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ms. Hochul said in an interview with MSNBC. "There's just a lot of things that weren't happening, and I'm going to make them happen. Transparency will be the hallmark of my administration."
Those remarks represented another attempt to distance herself from Mr. Cuomo, who had excluded her from his inner circle while creating what investigators who found he had sexually harassed 11 women, most of whom worked for him, described as "a toxic work environment." The detailed their findings in a report to State Attorney General Letitia James three weeks earlier that eventually led to him stepping down.
Some of Ms. Hochul's priorities spelled out in her inaugural address on her first day as Governor were closely connected to the coronavirus pandemic. She said she had asked the Department of Health to institute a universal-masking policy for anyone entering schools statewide, and that she would emphasize to residents the importance of being vaccinated, saying that those who weren't were "putting themselves and their communities at risk." She said New Yorkers who have already been vaccinated should expect to be asked to get booster shots in the near future.
Changing the Culture
Referring to the turmoil her predecessor's situation had created for much of the summer, when he began criticizing the investigators as biased shortly after they interviewed him in mid-July—more than two weeks before they issued their Aug. 3 report—the Governor said another of her priorities was, "Get this state working again, focused, without distractions. And that begins with a dramatic change in culture, with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line. Today, I'm directing the overhaul of state government policies on sexual harassment and ethics, starting with requiring that all training be done live instead of allowing people to click their way through a class."
One of Mr. Cuomo's most-outspoken accusers, Charlotte Bennett, six months ago told The New York Times that Stephanie Benton, a trusted aide, had informed her that she took the anti-harassment course on the then-Governor's behalf, something Ms. Benton denied.
Ms. Hochul also said, "It's our time to build trust between communities and law enforcement, invest in mental-health resources, and address the root problems of crime and keep our residents and children safe. It's our time to make greater progress ending the ugly specter of systemic racism. And it's our time to help small businesses and create new jobs for New Yorkers hit so hard by the pandemic."
Invokes Teddy Roosevelt
Quoting a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, who was Governor of New York before being elected President, she said, "You'll find me to be direct, straight-talking and decisive. I will not be deterred and I'm willing to be bloodied and marred in the pursuit of doing what's right for the people of this great state."
The following day, the Buffalo native—who plans to continue living there part of the time while serving the final 15 months of Mr. Cuomo's term—fulfilled her pledge to add diversity to her administration with her choice for Lieutenant Governor, picking State Sen. Brian Benjamin, who has represented Harlem.
Mr. Benjamin, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for City Comptroller in June, has political views that are further to the left than Ms. Hochul, who has called herself a Biden Democrat. He has supported the closing of Rikers Island, to be replaced by four borough-based jails that would not accommodate more than 3,300 inmates—just more than half the current number of detainees in the city system—ending solitary confinement in the jails, and reforming both the bail laws and the parole process.
During an interview with The Times Aug. 25, Ms. Hochul said she was not convinced that bail reform was unworkable, explaining, "I'm not sure the bail law is being implemented the way it was intended."
'Judges Have Discretion'
She continued, "Judges have far more discretion to ensure that people meet the standards put forth in the law so no one who's been convicted of a violent crime is able to get out. The law spells out what's supposed to be in place for judges to evaluate, and I'm not 100 percent sure that's what's happening."
She said she supported bail reform because "we've had an unjust system. Same crime, two people. One's rich, one's poor. One's going to jail, one is staying at home."
The new Governor also chided her predecessor for not doing more to improve conditions at the New York City Housing Authority. Mayor de Blasio has borne the brunt of the blame for deteriorating conditions and the shocking revelation that the agency stopped doing inspections of lead-paint contamination in apartments with small children dating back to the final two years of Michael Bloomberg's administration and continuing for most of Mr. de Blasio's first term.
"So many people are living in squalor," Ms. Hochul said. "The heat is not reliable in the wintertime; it's too hot in the summer. Things are breaking down, and I want to get back to the nuts and bolts."
She added, "I've seen how transformative it is when you give people a safe home, something that so many take for granted, but if you don't have it, it's terrifying."
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