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The NYN Interview: Kathy Hochul

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It's been one year since governor Kathy Hochul first took office, and now she's running for a full term in November. 

Dan Clark sits down with governor Hochul herself for a wide-ranging interview. 


DAN CLARK: It's been a long year with you in office. Can you tell me, I'm curious, are you a different person now than you were this time last year, do you think? 

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL: I'm definitely a different person, that's a great question. Under the theory of if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger, I feel stronger. I feel more confident. We've had many successes that people thought were impossible. We really talked about how we govern in a very different way. and I said I'm going to come here in this historical space in government. I've worked hard to do that. but i've also felt this inner strength that perhaps I didn't even know was there that had to come out in some really challenging circumstances. I even feel more confident today than i did a year ago. 

DC: Something I always wondered about was the few weeks between when the former governor Cuomo announced his resignation and he actually resigned and then you became governor. Could you take us back to those two weeks, I think it was two weeks. What was it like for you? 

KH: It was a blur. Our lives turned upside down, but in a way I knew I needed to take the time to prepare. I was reading budget books and procedure books and talked about assembling a team of individuals. I wanted the most diverse administration in history, we accomplished that. I knew there were a lot of people that would not continue in office on the first day, and I had to have a team in place. 

My top leadership, primarily women, strong women, and I have a real talent for attracting talent. My communications team, second to none, secretary to the governor. Bringing on Karen Persichilli Keogh and Kathryn Garcia, strong policy people. So I'm really fortunate that during that time I could start, quick time -- we didn't have a lot of time for vetting and things -- but I had to pull together a team because literally one week later we were dealing with a hurricane and kids going back to school and the uncertainty of COVID and masks or no masks, vaccines or no. So we had a lot to deal with in a short time. Those two weeks were part of preparation, just for the position itself. 



"I've always been that kind of person, where I draw energy from other people. I seek them out. I go to where they are, and if they're in trouble or in stress or feeling worried about crime in their neighborhood, I'm showing up and saying: I've got your back. I'm helping you."


DC: You know, you're right, a week in, Ida hit New York - coming up on the anniversary. Take me through the response for you the first major thing you had to deal with as a governor. It was a tragic event, I know you went right down into Brooklyn and Queens the day after. 

KH: We did. We were there immediately. This community, it was mostly heartbreaking. You walk in and you see people have been living in really substandard conditions in basement dwellings because that's all they could afford. And the water, raging waters came down the street and just - the water was up to the ceiling and people were drowning in their homes, and I talked to one man who escaped through his window as he almost got stuck and he would have drowned. It was emotional, but I also knew I couldn't dwell on my own feelings. I have strong empathy for people, but I had to jump into action. They needed to see I was a leader that could bring in the resources. Federal government, FEMA, my state team. How we just lift people out of this.

You met everybody who lived in an area, they were devastated, and I think they thought everyone just shows up and the President's there and the cameras are there, and I could see in their eyes they didn't trust that we would be back to help them. So I went back the next day, just by myself, just a couple of the local leaders, no cameras. And I also went back a third day. I had to show them that I'm in this for the long haul, that we are here to help you. We mean that sincerely. 

I could see sort of a trust in their eyes, that they knew they had a leader now who really would look out for them, so that was a real defining moment. And literally the first week that set us on our path to say: we have to restore faith in government and a lot is just showing up, showing up and saying I'm here to help you I'm going to get you out of this. So it was a challenging situation, but we rose to it. And I'll be back there again shortly to see how people are doing, making sure that their lives are better one year later. 

DC: Tell me how that reflects on your personal governance style. I've known you since you were lieutenant governor; you seem to have a personal touch with people that other lawmakers and elected officials don't always have. How important is that to you? 

KH: It's everything. It's everything. I grew up in a household with a mother who taught me empathy. She had a very difficult childhood. She could have gone being abandoned, alcoholic father and abusive father and all these other things. Mother died when she was young. She had to raise younger kids. She could have been hardened by that experience but it made her more caring about other people, and I learned that at a young age, as a child, going into the homes of people who lived in great poverty even though we didn't have much. I've always been that kind of person, where I draw energy from other people. I seek them out. I go to where they are, and if they're in trouble or in stress or feeling worried about crime in their neighborhood, I'm showing up and saying: I've got your back. I'm helping you. So that's who I'll always be. I'm most unhappy in this job sitting behind a desk. We had a lot to do during the budget process, had to stay in Albany for many, many weeks, and we have our responsibilities, but once the end of session came and I could walk around and sit at the Jackson Heights Diner the other night, or go to the Troy Farmers Market with a new grand baby a couple of weeks ago. 

DC: i didn't know you were there, that's my favorite farmers market. 

KH: I was pushing the baby in the stroller, showing her off to everybody. I'm back in Buffalo many times because of the devastation my hometown went through with the slaughter, the massacre of people, innocent, in the grocery store. So I believe in showing up. You show up with people and resources on your side and you do it again and again and again. That's how we build that trust, and I'll always do that. 



"I believe in showing up. You show up with people and resources on your side and you do it again and again and again. That's how we build that trust, and I'll always do that."


DC: You've done a lot of that over the past year. What do you see as your defining moment? What do you want people to take away from the last two or year associated with you? There's been a while between omicron, and budget and state of the state, as you said the awful shooting in Buffalo, a lot has happened. 

KH: All those combined, but also just in the final weeks of the legislative session, and the Supreme Court decision, really having to stand up and be a voice, not just for our state but nationally, and say that we are going to stand up, protect the rights of women to have an abortion, the right to choose, and not have government mandated pregnancies which is the outcome in so many states, where you see now one out of three women are living in a state that's hostile to their rights. So I need to stand up on that issue, but also on guns. We do have a gun crisis. I have worked with the state police to bring together resources. Nowhere else in the country do we have nine states, that I brought together, and said: you work together. You start sharing data. This week the head of ATF of the country is coming to New York to see how we did this, how we got thousands of guns off the streets. so those are areas where it's not one example but it's also saying we've got a problem, I'm going to solve it, and I was on a zoom call with everybody in Rochester talking about their spike in crime, and how three weeks ago I gathered everyone, said we're doing things differently. 

Crime's starting to head down. Maybe that's the trend, maybe it's not. But I've got my hands on all this. So gun safety, I'm doing what the Supreme Court did, in saying we couldn't have a concealed carry law to protect us from people might want to carry a gun in New York City on a subway or on a bus upstate, in a sporting event or a park or a school or church or synagogue. Our laws are going to be turning that around saying, no, I still have the power to protect the citizens of my state. Ee respect your rights, but also you don't have a right to carry a gun anywhere you want. So I've had to rise to those national challenges in addition to the state's own challenges with gun safety laws, protecting women's rights, while making sure that we invest in our healthcare, $10 billion to help lift up a battered healthcare system that was crushed under the weight of the pandemic. a thousand new people have scholarships, full rides, to become nurses. We gave bonuses to people in healthcare because they felt so unappreciated, record spending for education. Our schools can have healthcare professionals, medical health experts, help our kids get through what's been an excruciating time. 

I won't be able to point to just one accomplishment, but we've gotten our hands out there and focused on so many issues that New Yorkers wanted us to. And that's the kind of governor I'm going to be. We worked hard, put in long days. I've got a team that's second to none. That's how i'm making a difference in this state. 

DC: You've had your challenges as well over the last few months alone. Your former lieutenant governor Brian Benjamin was indicted on federal corruption charges not related to his job as lieutenant governor but a race that he was running in New York City for New York City comptroller at the time. You've described that as personally disappointing because he had to resign, obviously, and it shook up your politics. What would you have done differently if you could go back? Do you wish you had taken that process a little slower, done some more vetting, or do you think it wouldn't have made a difference? 

KH: No, you've hit on exactly what's going on. One year ago, during that two-week period, when I didn't have the staff, I didn't have the resources to do the normal vetting. I knew lieutenant governor from my visits to Harlem and appreciate his work as a senator. And there was a good relationship. Didn't properly vet, and I've accepted that. So it was disappointing. It happened right around the budget time, but I have assembled the greatest team, from commissioner of health Dr. Mary Bassett who left a major position at Harvard to come back. And Kathryn Garcia, who was this close to being the mayor of New York City. She's extraordinary. To run our state operations, the best attorneys I could find. Finest communication team as I mentioned, Karen Persichilli, I've got the all-star dream team. 

They have helped me build a system that is responsive and has taken the whole idea of public service to the next level, and I really want that to be one of our legacies that people, like I was as a young person, was inspired as I was an intern I was 18 years old with the New York state assembly. I believed in the power of government to do good even back then, and I've never lost that. So I want young women, in particular, to have doors open to them in our administration to build a farm team like I was part of and that's what I'm going to continue to do. So we had some mistakes, corrected them, I have a great lieutenant governor in Antonio Delgado, proud of the perspective he brings to the job, his experience, and we're back on track. 

DC: You brought up crime before. I want to see where you're thinking on that because there's a lot of different ideas on how to reduce crime in New York and across the country. We've seen a national crime wave, Republicans have blamed it on bail reform here in New York. I know you don't share the same opinion, but I'm wondering, what do you do about crime going forward? Are we doing all the right things and we just have to wait and hope that they all work? Or are there more things you would like to do? 

KH: I think about this first thing in the morning, last thing at night. I truly do. I don't want anyone to be harmed by or victimized by a crime, and they deserve to have security and safety. I believe in targeted changes as we've done with the bail reform. We now have gun cases covered, hate crimes covered, repeat offenders now covered. Those are there for the district attorneys and judges to follow that, that should be a reduction in crime. There's other areas, that's just one approach, and that's not responsible for the nationwide increase in crime, as you mentioned. 

We're still the safest state, safest big city in New York City in America even though crime is up everywhere. As long as people are anxious about it I'm anxious about it, I'm going to focus on it. But we've got enhanced red flag laws, getting the guns out of people who whether through social media or in other ways, in schooled, have telegraphed that they have intent to do harm to themselves or someone else. We've been aggressive in that, we now have a record number of cases that have been caught with those extreme resources of protection. Making sure after the Buffalo massacre that an 18-year-old can't walk in a store and buy an AR-15, as in this case went down to Pennsylvania, got enhanced magazine, and was able to do something that should only occur on a military battlefield. We changed that law. You need now have to have a background check to buy ammunition. 

We'll have enhanced training, so we've made changes to laws that people said were not possible. Through sheer force and cooperation with the legislature, we got them done. It is a multifaceted approach and one that I'm not going to let up on, and I was just on calls with everybody involved in law enforcement the city of Rochester to help them get their crime rate down. Last three weeks since I last convened them the numbers are trending in a better direction because we now have a better relationship. Our state police are embedded in the Rochester police department. What I'm doing is finding out where I can be most helpful to help local law enforcement be able to reduce the crime rate. 

New York, NY - June 27, 2022: Governor Kathy Hochul greets voters during campaign stop alone with Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado in Washington Heights. (SHUTTERTOCK)


DC: Republicans have really placed all the blame for the crime problem on Democrats. How much of this do you think is political? You mentioned before that you may think that judges and prosecutors aren't using all the tools that they have effectively. How do we change that? Is it just about the more training that you've mentioned as well? Or how do we make sure that these laws are being followed in a way that they were intended? 

KH: You know, you're absolutely right about Republicans trying to politicize this, because when it comes to smart gun safety legislation, they oppose it. So how do you say you're trying to stop crime and yet you oppose, verbally said you would not support, our enhancements to the red flag laws? You oppose our efforts to restrict who can carry a concealed carry weapon. How does that match up? Most serious crimes are being committed with guns, illegal guns from another state. That's inconsistent right there. That shows that they are just politicizing something because they can. But people need to say what are you doing about guns? Guns are the ones that are killing people, people with guns, so that's just a nonstarter as far as I'm concerned. You have no credibility to question what we're doing and you won't support our gun safety legislation. 

DC: I also feel like this is one of the issues, the bail reform issue, that the public doesn't really understand as much as we do. We read these bills, we talk about it every day, it seems, and everything just seems to be kind of jumbled in this political mess on television, through ads, online through ads. So that brings up my point of your first full term, looking next year. You have an election November for the governorship. It would be your first full term in office. Tell me: what's at the top of your accomplishments list? What do you want to get done when you're there? 

KH: We'll continue to focus on public safety. We'll continue investing in, as we have, triple the amount of money going to the violence disrupter programs in cities where the crimes are being committed, making sure that our police have the resources they need, that they'll continue to do the work we want them to do, and support them. But also, aside from public safety, we have a real affordability crisis. 

DC: We do. I was going to ask you about that next. 

KH: I'm laser focused on not just the $25 billion record amount of money we're putting toward building 100,000 affordable housing units, but what other strategies can we use, whether it's changing zoning, transit-oriented development. There are ways that we can make this state more affordable for everybody from the young people that are literally fleeing Silicon Valley, young people with technology backgrounds and degrees are coming to this state in search of the energy and the environment. Not just New York City, it's upstate as well. 

What i'm seeing in Albany and Rochester and Syracuse, Utica, and Buffalo and Bimington, it's transformative, the jobs that are coming here. Sat down with a major, major company talking to them about the talent we have in New York state, upstate, and people want to live here, but what has happened after the pandemic, people discovered many of our communities upstate, the price of housing went up, and I want people to have the joy of home ownership. That's how you build wealth. So we're focusing on more strategies, and I already announced some and we'll continue announce more strategies to give first-time home buyers an extra lift, make it easier for them. That will be one of our top positions as well as considering to stabilize the healthcare industry. 

I said I want to increase the healthcare workforce by 20% in five years. Now it's down to four years. We have to continue focusing on stabilizing that as well as focusing on education. the kids were hit so hard by the pandemic. we need to give them a good education but also probably mental health services where many wouldn't have needed it before but let's take the stigma away. If your child is struggling, that's okay, a lot of kids are struggling. We have to start investing in helping get them through the trauma that they just experienced with this pandemic. 

DC: I think for everybody. I think everybody after the pandemic is dealing with mental health issues unparalleled. I just took a month off of work, for example, just because of that reason. You just need to reset a lot of these times.

KH: It's okay. We have to say to people it's okay. We're all human, we've been through a lot. 

DC: We've been through so much in the past few years. I want to go back to schools for a second. So the state is ending a lot of the COVID restrictions that were in schools to align with CDC guidance. How hard a decision was that for you, was it easy to see the numbers and say okay now we don't have to do this, or was it a more deliberative process?

KH: No, we analyzed the numbers nonstop every single day, the numbers and the trends. Where we were this time last year we're in a very good place. All of a sudden kids are back in school, people back indoors, numbers started going up. Then they started coming down. We're thinking by November we're in good shape. Then the end of November, OMICRON shows up, and we were the first state to really take that seriously. 

We started amassing testing kits, we had more testing kits in the state of New York than probably the entire country. I knew we had to do this because my fear we was this would spread and kids needed to be back to school in January. I had to make sure kids stayed in school. We're very experienced now in what to look for, so those restrictions, because of the availability of the test kits, realizing that the data is showing what's really causing the virus to spread, and it's not spreading in schools, so why not take away some of those stressors associated with reminding people that we've been through a pandemic. When you don't need to, we won't. When we need to put in restrictions, we will. So I don't want to be just continuing things just because they've been there, but I've said to everybody, you see a trend, numbers start going up. We're going to talk about things differently, but right now I'm empowering New Yorkers. Make sure you're vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, be smart about it, protect yourself. More boosters come out, be first in line, get them, and I'll make sure we have supplies. That's what I have to continue doing. I don't want to ever have a supply chain shortage when it comes to protecting the health of New Yorkers. 



"It's my job. I have to do this, and I embrace it. It's an absolute honor to be the governor, and yes, there's a certain weight that's on your shoulders, but I lean into it. This is not for the feint-of-heart. I run into this and say I can do this. People need to believe. They need to know that their governor has got their back."


DC: The OMICRON booster is going to be coming out here in the next few weeks, hopefully, fingers crossed. Are we ready for that? 

KH: Yes. Again, we have to take what the federal government gives us, so there's always some sort of more demand than supply initially, but we have the exact opposite now. If you want to get a vaccine, something that was scarce a year ago, you could get them on street corners. They're everywhere, and really everybody should be doing this because this is going to be around for a while, and our hospitalizations are down. We still lost 25 people to COVID in our state yesterday, but we're definitely in a better place. We're in a far better place than when we weren't vaccinated. 

DC: Right. Exactly. It's hard to think we're in a better place when you see the deaths every day. You're looking at the data every day, I skip some days. How does that weigh on you? 

KH: I have to do this. I'm the governor of New York. I'm responsible for the public health and safety of everyone who calls themselves a New Yorker. I take that very seriously. 

DC: Is it hard? 

KH: It's my job. I have to do this, and I embrace it. It's an absolute honor to be the governor, and yes, there's a certain weight that's on your shoulders, but I lean into it. This is not for the feint-of-heart. I run into this and say I can do this. People need to believe. They need to know that their governor has got their back. 

DC: I need to ask you about this because I love following legal news in New York, it's one of my passions. You're going to have the chance to pick a new chief judge here in the next few months. What kind of person are you looking for? Some people really want you to pick somebody with experience in public defense versus prosecution. Do you have any idea of the person that you're looking for? 

KH: There will be no litmus test. No one will be disqualified because of their particular background, whether they were a public defender, whether they were a prosecutor, whether they were an existing judge, whether they're an academic or someone from the private sector. What I'm looking for is the opportunity to build this court to honor the legacy of the past, the supreme court justice needs to be take from the New York state court of appeals. I want a true jurist, someone who has demonstrated the ability to weigh both sides of an issue. It's best for the people of our state. I have to caution everyone, I don't have a chance to pick anyone I want. There is a screening process, and obviously the people on the screening committee were selected before I became governor, so there's that dynamic. But also they will narrow it down to seven people and I select among the seven, but my expectations are clear. There are no disqualifiers on anyone's past professional background despite what people may be asking for. I won't do that. I deserve to have the very best. 

DC: Do you want to pick somebody who is already on the court to fill that job, or does it matter? 

KH: I will be looking at everybody, looking at the seven. I don't know who is going to be in that category, but I don't want anyone to not apply because of their own background. If they feel they have what it takes and have that disposition to be a leader, I need someone who actually can oversee a vast bureaucracy, one that has been under a lot of stress because of the pandemic, when we went for such a long time without jury trials. One of the reasons people out there got accused of a crime and perhaps recommitting crime is they're awaiting a trial that's taking years to happen because nothing happened during the pandemic. There's a lot to rebuild there. This has to be a person who has a vision for stabilizing but also lifting up the entire system to make it worthy of the New York state court of appeals. 

DC: It's going to be really interesting, maybe for me, maybe not for everybody, but I like it. It's interesting.

KH: It's important we see the weight of the decisions that they have before them and they do directly affect the lives of New Yorkers. This is very important. 



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