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New York Is About To Get Its First Female Governor Kathy Hochul

NOEL KING, HOST:

New York's lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, will become the first woman to govern the state soon. Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned yesterday after an investigation by the state's attorney general found he sexually harassed 11 women. NPR's Brian Mann has been following this story for us. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: A lot of people didn't think that Cuomo would resign, and then he did. Tell us about this kind of monthslong spiral he was in.

MANN: You know, Andrew Cuomo's political brand always had a dark side, but in the last few months, as you say, it just unraveled. First came these troubling allegations. Cuomo concealed the true rate of COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. And then women who served on his staff started coming forward, saying that he sexually harassed or even groped them. Details of those allegations were outlined in a devastating investigation by the state attorney general's office. And his political support just imploded. Yesterday, Cuomo acknowledged it was all just too much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDREW CUOMO: This situation, by its current trajectory, will generate months of political and legal controversy. That is how the political wind is blowing.

MANN: And so Cuomo says he'll step aside in two weeks.

KING: Two weeks and then Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, will become governor. How difficult will this job be?

MANN: It's going to be a heavy lift. She released a statement yesterday, saying she is ready to lead, but Albany is a notoriously brutal political town. Hochul is from upstate New York, the Buffalo area, which is not the political center of gravity in New York. She's going to have to find a way to govern with a very fractious Democratic Party, with big rifts between moderates like herself and more progressive lawmakers. And right out of the gate, she faces some tough challenges - a resurgent pandemic with the delta variant, a state economy that's still reeling from the pandemic, also a sharp increase in crime in New York City and other cities. So as Hochul emerges from this just crazy political moment that Andrew Cuomo left behind, she's got a big to-do list.

KING: And she has to be looking ahead to the fact that there's an election next year.

MANN: Yeah, this is another reason Hochul may struggle to get people behind her. She's going to have political rivals emerging ahead of next year's Democratic primary. Probably the figure being watched most closely right now is state Attorney General Letitia James. Again, her office produced that report that sealed Cuomo's fate. James has drawn praise from progressive groups for taking on corporate interests, as well as the NRA and former President Trump. The AG's office has been a jumping-off point for aspiring governors. So if she runs, she'd be tough to beat.

KING: OK, Democrats, as you say, a fractious bunch in New York and elsewhere - what about Republicans in the state?

MANN: Yeah, so Republicans pushed hard in the press and social media for Cuomo's ouster, and they're really celebrating this as a moment of victory. Remember; Cuomo pushed a lot of policies that conservatives fiercely opposed - strict gun control laws, same-sex marriage, a big climate change initiative. And Cuomo was also a really outspoken opponent of former President Trump. So for the GOP, yesterday was a big win.

But Cuomo's departure takes away their biggest campaign theme for next year, which was growing voter discontent with Cuomo dissatisfaction, especially in upstate New York. So now their boogeyman is gone. It's going to be interesting to see if Republicans running for governor can capitalize somehow. Remember, Noel; the GOP hasn't won a statewide race in New York since 2002. Their state party is really aligned with Trump, who's deeply unpopular here. So if they're going to get back into New York politics, they have a huge uphill battle.

KING: OK. NPR's Brian Mann. Thank you, Brian.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.