© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

EXTRA: Gov. Kathy Hochul on NPR's Morning Edition

Kathy Hochul on the phone
Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she has made a "clean break" from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Speaking on NPR's Morning Edition Wednesday, the state's 57th governor talked about how her administration will be different from the previous governor.

Hochul said "it doesn't have to be top heavy." She'll continue to "embrace going out into counties" — just as she has throughout her political career — and "empower" local officials to be part of the decision making.

"They'll know what I'm doing every step of the way. There's going to be no drama, no surprises from my administration," she said. "There's not going to be a situation where, you know, information is revealed about a new policy before I've already had a chance to seek out input from everyone affected by it. Not that it will never delay my decisions. I gather people quickly, I assess, I listen to experts and then I'm decisive. And that's what the public deserves to hear."

Hochul said the mask mandate issued immediately after taking the oath of office came from local officials., but she's "flexible," "not a "dictator," and will release COVID-19 mandates when the data allows.

Full Transcript:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Leila Fadel. And I'm Steve Inskeep.

SI: The governor of New York joins us next. The last time we said that the governor was Andrew Cuomo. Today it is Kathy Hochul, the first woman to hold that office, although not the first New York governor to take charge after the previous one resigned in disgrace. Governor Hochul, welcome to the program.

KH: Well, thank you for having me on the show. I really appreciate it, Steve.

SI: And congratulations on your new position, however it came to you. How do you define your essential task?

KH: Well, my task right now is very immediate. I have to get COVID under control, protect the safety of New Yorkers. And I started with a mask mandate in schools, effective immediately, and also get more vaccinations out there. And particularly, as we're looking at the booster shots, there's a lot of older people who are feeling very insecure and vulnerable, because they would have had their first shots just about eight months ago. And that's when I spoke with Dr. Fauci as to time. He said people should be getting their next booster shots. I'll be having a very aggressive program to get the boosters out. But there's still a lot of people who never got the first dose, and that's going to be a barrier to getting people feeling secure about going to schools and to work. And so I'm laser focused on those two big initiatives.

SI: Do you feel that you're taking office in a crisis that has nothing to do with Andrew Cuomo's crisis. You were at 300 new cases per day in New York not long ago, and I think you're now up to 5,000 new cases a day.

KH: Yeah. So it's very concerning. I mean, there's no doubt about it. I was in the trenches, during the first months of last year's pandemic. I was literally embedded with the local health officials and county executives in upstate New York. So I know how scary this is and what people went through. And I have a different approach. We were successful last year. But also, as we see this resurgence, I'm going to be doing more to empower local government officials, who spend all their days training for this — the local health departments, emergency management individuals — who know how to get vaccines out. So in my opinion, it does not have to be so top heavy. But also, we need to engage our local partners. That's something I've done all my life is for my career — in local office to county office to Congress and on up — so that's natural for me. But it's going to be a different approach. But we'll get to the same place. We eventually drive this down and protect people in the process.

SI: Do you have some people who think that you are being top heavy by imposing a statewide mask mandate?

KH: This is actually the results of an effort of outreach I did to school superintendents, school boards, teachers, all kinds of groups. I assembled on a Zoom call literally the day before, a couple days before I took office. And they told me they want this to happen. They just want the cover. They want to be able to go back to their parents at a school board meeting and say, 'This is a state mandate, we had to follow it.' So because they didn't have that, they were the ones that were the brunt of all the criticism, And I have no trouble problem at all, assuming that responsibly. So I'm going to do that. The vast majority of my conversations have been this is in the no brainer category. As much as it's politically divisive in some other states, in the state of New York, yes, there'll be people who criticize. Have already heard from them. But the vast majority of New Yorkers want to get through this as soon as possible. And number one, keep kids safe in schools. I'm a parent. This is a time of high anxiety for every mom and dad or anyone who sends kids to school. And I want to alleviate that by saying, You know what? Your child is going to be protected. We know masks work. And then we'll work on getting the vaccinations. And we'll have done everything we possibly can to make sure that that environment is safe so kids can start learning again.

SI: Did you literally have school superintendent saying that to you, force me to do this, twist my arm?

KH: Yes, we had a conversation with leadership on a call. And everyone, the leadership. And I can't say they speak for every single member. And I've represented the most conservative parts of New York as a member of Congress. So I know that they'll be individuals who'll disagree with that, but I'm balanced. We have to make a decision that affects New York state as a whole for now. But also, my flexibility. I'm willing to release the restrictions based on what's happening in different geographic areas. I have a statewide mandate to start. However, I'm going to monitor closely. I'm watching the data like a hawk all day long to see what's happening. And if there's an area that's not really that affected, they're coming out of it, they have good vaccination rates, then we can allow them to lift them. So I'm not going to be a dictator about this, I'm going to be flexible.

SI: Let's remember that Andrew Cuomo was forced to resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, which were investigated by the state attorney general and substantiated tremendously. But his administration at that point, when he was accused, had already lost credibility for something else, lost credibility over the pandemic masking the number of nursing home deaths. How do you repair the state's credibility after that?

KH: Well, I can do this. And simply it's about being more transparent, releasing the data as we get it and also not releasing one set of nursing home deaths. There are presumed and confirmed deaths. People should know both. Also, we're as of yesterday, we're using CDC numbers, which will be consistent and so there's no opportunity for us to mask those numbers, nor do I want to mask those numbers. The public deserves a clear, honest picture of what's happening. That's whether it's good or bad. They need to know the truth. And that's how we restore confidence — when they know that I will always be truthful and very transparent in my approach to government, and not just with respect to nursing homes, every aspect of, of government. That's that's been what I've done for 27 years of elective office. It's not a new concept to me.

SI: Do you consider it vital at this moment that the public does get the bad news, because you're trying to persuade them to deal with a worsening situation right now?

KH: They need to know I have their backs, and I'll do what I believe is in their best interest, but they'll know what I'm doing every step of the way. There's going to be no drama, no surprises from my administration. There's not gonna be a situation where, you know, information is revealed about a new policy before I've already had a chance to seek out input from everyone affected by it. Now, that'll never delay my decisions. I gather people quickly, I assess, I listen to experts and then I'm decisive. And that's what the public deserves to hear.

SI: Governor, how do you deal personally with the fact that you are replacing a governor whose conduct you condemned, of course, but he was your running mate, he was your ally, he's somebody you've known for years?

KH: Well, we were running mates. I ran twice for lieutenant governor. We run independently of the governor. Just so everyone knows, it's a different dynamic in New York. I had a run in my primary separately, although I was the governor's running mate. But I had to win those elections on my own and I did it twice. However, most people know that since the elections, it's no secret that I have not been close to the governor. I believed in many of the policies that I championed, that I worked hard for: increasing the minimum wage, paid family leave, childcare initiatives, protecting our gun safety laws so they're they're not diluted by any legislation. I fought hard for those. But also I've not been in the rooms, I've not been in Albany very much. I looked at my schedule. I embraced traveling every corner of the state every single year. I go to all 62 counties. People are gonna still see me in diners, still see me out, still see me in New York City constantly so they know I understand the lives that they lead and the frustrations they're experiencing. And then I can take that to make sure I do everything in my power to be the best governor I possibly can be.

SI: Is this a clean break then?

KH: Yes.

SI: Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York. Thanks so much. Pleasure talking with you.

KH: Thank you, Steve.

SI: This is NPR News.