Just as she did in Congress, Kathleen C. Hochul plans to focus her work as lieutenant governor on upstate economic development, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new running mate said in an interview Wednesday.
“The governor is very expansive in his view of my role, that he views me as an asset with respect to executing his priorities on economic development, and that’s what I’m going to be primarily focused on,” Hochul said.
Hochul spoke with The Buffalo News on Wednesday, only hours after Cuomo called to offer her the position of lieutenant governor in his next administration – provided that Cuomo beats Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, in November’s election.
In the interview, Hochul not only detailed the role she expects to play on economic issues, but also acknowledged that Cuomo had selected someone with a longstanding reputation for cutting an independent path in the political world. At the same time, though, Hochul – who won the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in her failed bid for re-election to Congress in 2012 – staunchly defended the SAFE Act, Cuomo’s controversial gun control measure.
First and foremost, though, Hochul wanted to talk about jobs. She said she had several conversations with Cuomo about serving as his lieutenant governor.
“We talked about the role, and I wanted to know that I’d have a significant role to play in continuing my work to support the economy of upstate New York, bring back jobs,” she said. And in those conversations, “it was very clear to me that this is an opportunity to serve at a new level, but in an area that I’m very, very comfortable with, because that’s what I’d been doing in Congress.”
Hochul said she will continue outgoing Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy’s work on the Economic Development Council, as well as being deeply involved in the “Buffalo Billion,” Cuomo’s effort to aid the Western New York economy. She also will also continue to serve on the Outer Harbor Commission and on the Buffalo Bills New Stadium Working Group.
“It’s very oriented to executing the governor’s priorities and the work that’s already been started in Western New York,” she said of her anticipated role.
On the local economy, “there’s more to be done, and that’s what I love: I love a good challenge,” Hochul said. “It’s going to be great.”
At the same time, though, in picking Hochul, Cuomo – who has earned a reputation in Albany as a hands-on, top-down leader – didn’t exactly pick someone who has made a career of executing other people’s priorities.
From the start of her career as a student government leader at Syracuse University – where she led a failed effort to name the Carrier Dome after football legend Ernie Davis – to a brief term in Congress where she bucked the Democratic party line on issues such as the details of Obamacare, Hochul has always been an unusually independent politician.
Hochul stressed, though, that she always tried to effect change in a “nonhostile” way.
“I find that more effective,” she said. “And I really admire the governor for his willingness to select someone who has a reputation for having an independent streak. It shows he’s open to new ideas. I think that’s a very admirable trait, and that’s why we’re going to be a great team.”
Cuomo and Hochul won’t be disagreeing, though, on the SAFE Act, the gun control measure that has cost Cuomo support among the very upstate voters Hochul would seem to appeal to.
Asked if she supported the SAFE Act, Hochul said: “Yes ,I do. I believe that it strikes the proper balance. As everybody knows, I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment – and there are people who support the Second Amendment who also believe it’s reasonable to have background checks. What happens is these issues get hijacked by people on the extremes, but the average gun owner from upstate New York understands that we have to be sure that guns are owned responsibly.”
The State Legislature passed the SAFE Act in early 2013, after Hochul had lost her congressional re-election bid to Republican Chris Collins, a former Erie County executive. Hochul stressed, though, that she supports the measure “100 percent.”
Now, though, she is suddenly on a different path. If the Democratic ticket wins in November, she will find herself doing what Duffy did: traveling to every end of the state to do Cuomo’s bidding.
Hochul said she is excited about that prospect, even if it comes at a difficult time. Hochul’s mother, Patricia Ann Courtney, died two months ago today.
“One of my mother’s favorite phrases was: ‘Go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good,’” Hochul said. “That’s the phrase that’s on her headstone.”