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WNYer Hochul rocketing into national spotlight, but not forgetting her roots

Kathy Hochul (l), wearing a purple dress, sits in a chair opposite WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen Dewitt
Karen Dewitt
Kathy Hochul (l) in an interview with WBFO Albany Correspondent Karen Dewitt.

Hamburg native Kathy Hochul has rocketed into national spotlight, as she prepares to take over as New York's chief executive. Hochul made the rounds on the national news shows Sunday, but also took time for her hometown Erie County Fair.

The first thing we learned is that Hochul may be a household name in Western New York, but it's clear not so much elsewhere.

Some news anchors seem to be struggling with how to pronounce her name. Tucker Carlson of Fox News, for example, pronounced it "HOE-chill." A CNN anchor earlier Sunday went with "HOTCH-ull."

A quick search of social media showed hundreds of posts from people wondering how, exactly, to pronounce her surname. Hochul's own staff seem to be amused by some of the mispronunciations, not just this weekend, but in recent weeks as Cuomo's governorship was on the brink.

So Hochul's communications director, Bryan Lesswing, tweeted an easy way to remember it: "Hochul - rhymes with local."

Now that that's settled, Hochul has another immediate job to fulfill: choosing her own lieutenant governor. The state's constitution includes a line of succession, but once governor Hochul can make her own choice.

According to the Associated Press, New York State Sens.Jamaal Bailey and Brian Benjamin are emerging as top contenders. The AP said Bailey and Benjamin, both from New York City, are among several candidates being vetted by Hochul and her team, and they have emerged as the leading contenders in recent days.

Bailey was elected to the Senate in 2016, after serving as Speaker Carl Heastie's communications director, and currently chairs the Senate Committee on Codes. His district covers the Bronx, where he grew up.

Benjamin assumed office in 2017 and now chairs the Senate's Committee on Revenue and Budget. He grew up in Harlem, the district he now serves, and used his MBA from Harvard as an investment banker to help build affordable housing.

In an interview on CBS's "Face The Nation" Sunday, Hochul confirmed she had narrowed her search to candidates from New York City.

"I've narrowed it down in terms of the geographic area of the state to New York City, because I am Upstater,"Hochul said. "Even though I've spent thousands of hours in New York City and I'm well familiar with the challenges, but I want someone who lives there. I want someone who understands the- the challenges firsthand."

Kathy Hochul is a blue polo shirt with the state seal before a "Welcome to the Agriculture Discovery Center" sign
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul also went back to her roots in Hamburg Sunday, spending some time at the Erie County Fair.

Hochul, who will be New York's first female governor, is also considering naming Kathryn Garcia as the director of state operations, according to the Associated Press. Kelly Cummings currently holds the role, which is a coveted position in the state administration. Cummings was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after serving as one of his advisors and earlier, a communications director in the state Senate and Assembly for two decades.

Hochul also appeared on CNN Sunday. Speaking with Jake Tapper on "State of the Union," she vowed to uphold integrity in her administration after Cuomo resigns. Cuomo leaves following the state attorney general's investigation that found he sexually harassed multiple women.

Hochul said she wasn't personally aware of the sexual harassment complaints against the governor, saying she literally wasn't in the room where things were going on.

"I'm going to be very firm in my expectations on how my administration conducts themselves throughout the entire work force but also I want people to know, particularly young women like I was once a young intern working in Buffalo in Democratic politics, I want them to know this is a place they're welcome. They'll feel safe. They'll know their ideas are valued. So I don't think it is going to take a lot for that tone to change on day one."

Hochul also spoke on WHAM Radio in Rochester. She said she supports mask mandates for children in school, as a necessary safety step for helping New York get through a new wave of COVID-19 infections. She added, however, that she'd "remain flexible and consider all options as the circumstances of the pandemic continue to change."

WBFO's Mike Desmond was at the Erie County Fair with Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

While Hochul was all over national media Sunday, talking about becoming governor and running for a full term, she was also at the Erie County Fair, talking about being 10-year-old Kathy Courtney and public speaking in her hometown of Hamburg. The about-to-be governor told a news conference a little about being a kid growing up in a home not far from the Fairgrounds.

"Welcome to the Erie County Fair," Hochul said. "This is part of my history and I wanted to come here during these early weeks as I'm preparing to become the governor of the State of New York and to bring people to a place that really had a profound influence on my life."

A little blond girl and Kathy Hochul feed milk to a calf.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (r) helps feed a calf at the Erie County Fair Sunday.

Hochul talked about her roots and a 4-H talk at the fair a half-century ago.

"I was a little girl in this town, never missed a single year. Even as an adult, I did not miss coming here," she said. "But it also brought back a memory. As a young 4-Her, this is the place I gave my very first public speech. I was 10 years old, part of a program where we had to come up with a healthy food, make a poster and talk to people in public about it."

She said 4-H is where she developed some confidence and leadership skills as a young girl.

"I say that message for all young people to take advantage of opportunities like a 4-H program or other programs to develop those leadership skills at a very young age, because you never know where it will lead," Hochul said.

Just as politicians who will be running against her next year are getting their bases firmed up, she's doing the same and talked about keeping the Buffalo Bills in town. Hochul also found time in her statement to make sure everyone knew a COVID-19 vaccination site was available on the Fairgrounds.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.