Kathy Hochul sworn in as first female governor of New York state

<span>Photograph: Hans Pennink/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Hans Pennink/AFP/Getty Images
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Kathy Hochul, the first woman to become governor of New York state, will make her debut speech from the executive mansion in Albany on Tuesday, after she was sworn into the post in a private ceremony in the early hours.

Related: From the archive: Cuomo’s demise – Politics Weekly Extra

At the stroke of midnight, Hochul, 62, was propelled from relative obscurity as lieutenant governor to one of the most powerful and prominent leadership positions within the Democratic party, as New York’s 57th governor.

After a ceremonial swearing-in on Tuesday morning, Hochul made brief remarks. Asked what her greatest ambition was, she said it was to revive faith in government.

“I want people to believe in our government again. It’s important to me that people have faith – our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us into these offices and I take that very seriously.”

She also talked about “changing the culture of Albany. I’m looking forward to a fresh collaborative approach – that’s how I’ve always conducted myself, it’s nothing new to me, but it’s something I’ll be introducing to the state Capitol.”

Although she did not mention her predecessor by name, her remarks were implicit criticisms of Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic firebrand who was governor for a decade until he was brought down by a devastating report from the state attorney general based on sexual harassment accusations from 11 women.

Cuomo denied the allegations and departed on Monday in characteristically belligerent fashion, lambasting the report that toppled him as a “political and media stampede”.

Before he left the executive mansion for the last time, Cuomo wielded his clemency powers in the cases of six men.

The most high-profile case was that of David Gilbert, who at 76 is among the last remaining prisoners for the $1.6m Brink’s robbery carried out in 1981 by members of the leftwing militant group the Weather Underground, together with the Black Liberation Army.

Cuomo’s act of clemency will allow Gilbert to plead his case for release before the state parole board, though there is no guarantee his wish will be granted.

Gilbert’s son, the San Francisco district attorney, Chesa Boudin, has been leading the campaign to set him free.

One of the first challenges facing Hochul will be to establish her governorship as a fresh start after the hostile climate that increasingly swirled around her predecessor. She has vowed to remove any Cuomo staffer found to have acted unethically and pledged that “no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment” – a reference to one of the key findings against Cuomo in the attorney general’s report.

Hochul’s first two major administrative appointments both went to women. Her new legal counsel will be Elizabeth Fine and her top aide, a position known as secretary to the governor, will be Karen Persichilli Keogh.

The biggest appointment on her to-do list has yet to be made: that of her lieutenant governor. While Hochul positions herself generally as a moderate Democrat – she spent a year in Congress in 2011 representing a relatively conservative and rural area of upstate New York – she has indicated she will pick a more progressive figure from New York City for the role.

Hochul’s advancement brings the total number of female governors in the US to nine – tying a record set in 2004 and repeated in 2007 and 2019. As Associated Press pointed out, a century after women won the vote, 19 states have yet to be led by a woman.

Hochul’s history-breaking stature as the first female governor of New York may earn her a honeymoon period in the job, but such are the pressures bearing down on her, it may not last long. As the Delta variant of the coronavirus pandemic is causing yet another surge in Covid cases, and with the Pfizer vaccine given full federal approval on Monday, Hochul faces calls to make vaccinations mandatory for all state employees.

She is also facing ongoing economic turmoil amid the pandemic, with the state suffering the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country.