ALBANY, N.Y. — Kathy Hochul became the first woman to be sworn in to a full term as New York’s governor on Sunday, a landmark moment she said she will use to lead a state facing fears of crime and an affordability crisis .
In her first inaugural address, Ms. Hochul briefly acknowledged other New York women who had made history before her, name-checking Harriet Tubman and Hillary Clinton, before turning her attention to the “worthy pursuits” and struggles that said he would take over the next four years.
“I didn’t come here to make history,” Ms. Hochul said shortly after being sworn in at a convention center in Albany. “I came here to make a difference.”
Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat from the Buffalo area, was sworn in two months later emerging victorious in the closest gubernatorial race New York has seen in decades. In one of the nation’s most liberal states, Ms. Hochul defeated her Republican challenger, Rep. Lee Zeldin, by only six percentage pointswith the race largely determined by voter agitation over spikes in crime and the rising cost of living, issues Mr. Zeldin has charged the governor with.
On Sunday, Ms. Hochul indicated she would focus her term on addressing many of the same concerns — including safety and affordability — that fueled a wave of discontent in November against Democrats who control all three levers of power in Albany.
At the same time, Ms. Hochul, 64, used her speech to target social issues favored by progressives who took credit for saving the governor’s campaign in his last weeks. And she emphasized the need to protect abortion rights, an issue that galvanized many Democrats after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Such sentiments were echoed by a swarm of Albany well-wishers and power brokers who packed the Empire State Plaza convention center in downtown Albany, adjacent to the ornate Capitol building.
The event, the first inaugural scheduled in Albany since 2011when Andrew M. Cuomo first became governor, there was a festive atmosphere, with attendees taking 360-degree photos and selfies in front of the New York State Seal and an I ❤️ NY poster.
Before the ceremony, a superb string quartet played amid the chatter of conversation among New Yorkers, only a handful of whom wore masks, a sign of the state’s steady, if slow, recovery from Covid-19.
In fact, Ms. Hochul mentioned the pandemic’s “lasting effects,” suggesting it was partly to blame for the state’s educational and economic turmoil, including “mental health challenges and increases in crime.”
The governor, who is expected to unveil a plan later this year to build 800,000 units of new housing over the next decade, said high housing and energy costs “make life too damn hard for New Yorkers.” She promised to address years of population loss in the state by creating jobs and economic opportunities in the state.
“New Yorkers are just struggling to pay rent, food and gas to get to work,” she said. “They hurt.”
Without offering specifics, she broadly vowed to crack down on hate crimes and address gun violence so that “New Yorkers can walk our streets, ride our subways, and our children can go to school without fear’.
Ms. Hochul is expected to lay out her policy vision in more detail during her State of the State address later this month, as well as in her state budget proposal, which typically serves as a vehicle to enact a slew of government priorities. the non-fiscal policy in Albany.
But adopting her agenda will mean working in tandem with Democrats in the state Legislature, who hold veto-power majorities in both chambers and have powerful blocs of members who are to Ms. Hochul’s left on a range of policy issues.
It is not clear, for example, whether Ms. Hochul will seek further changes to controversial bail laws this year as Mayor Eric Adams of New York has called for — a move that will set up another showdown with Democratic lawmakers. Mr. Adams attended Sunday’s ceremony, as did Sen. Chuck Schumer, who administered the oath of office for state Attorney General Letitia James, who also administered the oath, as did State Inspector Thomas B. DiNapoli and Lieut. Governor Antonio Delgado. They are all Democrats.
Ms. Hochul will begin the legislative year already at odds with left-leaning Democrats in the state Senate over her nominee for Chief Justice of the State. At least a dozen state senators, including Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the upper house, have announced in recent days that they will vote against confirming her pick, Hector LaSalle.
The intense opposition put Ms. Hochul’s candidacy in serious jeopardy, raising the possibility that Ms. Hochul, who has so far stood by her decision, may have to withdraw the nomination and suffer an embarrassing political defeat early in her first full term.
Ms. Hochul’s first inauguration capped her whirlwind ascent to the state’s highest office: In August 2021, she unexpectedly replaced Mr. Cuomo, after resigning amid a sexual-harassment scandal, thrusting Ms. Hochul, then his least-known lieutenant governor, into the spotlight.
A former congresswoman, Ms. Hochul made history as the state’s first female governor and the first governor of western New York in more than a century, and she quickly moved to build her reputation in Albany.
She delivered a range of policy priorities during her 500 days in office, including the passage of the state budget of 220 billion dollarsas well as changes in state bail and gun laws, and moved into development a more cordial relationship with fellow Democrats who control the state legislature.
Casting herself as a top executive and a calming presence after Mr. Cuomo’s belligerent leadership and sudden fall, Ms. Hochul immediately announced her bid for a full term and quickly established herself as the de facto leader of the state Democratic Party. She raised record amounts of campaign donations and won decisively in a three-way primary last summer.
Armed with a huge fundraising advantage in a state where Democratic voters vastly outnumber Republicans, Ms. Hochul appeared poised to easily prevail in the general election. But Mr. Zeldin capitalized on crime fears and mounted a spirited challenge fueled by support from independents and suburban voters and even a sizable portion of New York Democrats who seemed upset about public safety.
However, Ms. Hochul emerged victorious to become the first woman elected governor after struggling to turn out Democratic voters and focusing on public safety in the final days of the campaign.
The historic nature of her victory and her Buffalo-area origins were never far from the forefront Sunday, with the governor joking at one point that she made “really good chicken wings.”
A short video at the start of the ceremony showed girls and young women praising her for breaking a centuries-old glass ceiling. And like other speakers Sunday, Ms. Hochul offered her condolences to the families of more than three dozen people who died in a snowstorm in Buffalo last monthas well as for the victims of a racist massacre there in May.
Ms. Hochul sought to use her inauguration to begin mending the divisions that emerged during the election, pleading for unity by appealing to a shared sense of purpose among working-class New Yorkers, from nurses and police officers to teachers and hotel workers, saying “this day does not belong to me.”
“As I approach the next four years with energy, a sense of purpose and optimism, I know I am not alone because I have joined in this arena with others who will fight the good fights and worthy pursuits that Roosevelt spoke of,” G Ms. Hochul said, referring to Theodore Roosevelt, a former New York governor — and a Republican — whom she often quotes. “Let’s use the years ahead to really make a difference for each other and make this country stronger than it’s ever been.”
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