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Hochul moves into spotlight as scandal roils Cuomo’s reign

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo facing possible impeachment over sexual harassment allegations, her next stop may be the state Capitol of Albany.

ALBANY, N.Y. — As New York’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul has spent years on the road as the friendly face of the administration, visiting the far-flung coffee shops and factory floors of each of the state’s 62 counties for countless ribbon-cutting ceremonies and civic cheerleading events.

Now, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo facing possible impeachment over sexual harassment allegations, her next stop may be the state Capitol of Albany.

Hochul would become the state’s first woman governor if Cuomo were removed from office.

A centrist Democrat from western New York, she has worked deep in Cuomo’s shadow for her two terms in office, but this week joined the chorus of politicians denouncing the governor after an independent investigation concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women while in office.

“I believe these brave women,” Hochul wrote, calling Cuomo’s behavior “repulsive and unlawful” in a statement Tuesday.

She also acknowledged what has been simmering for months: The possibility she will become governor.

“Because lieutenant governors stand next in the line of succession, it would not be appropriate to comment further on the process at this moment,” she wrote.

To many New Yorkers, Hochul is an unknown quantity, serving since 2015 in a job that is mostly ceremonial. A typical afternoon in late July had her announcing job training funding in Utica, discussing manufacturing in Rome and touring downtown Cazenovia with the small town’s mayor.

That has been nothing like the attention-demanding appearances of the determinedly high-profile Cuomo, who does most of his business in Albany and New York City and whose daily coronavirus briefings were national events at the height of the coronavirus.

Hochul has not been part of Cuomo’s inner circle of aides and allies. Her name wasn’t mentioned in the investigative report, released by Attorney General Letitia James, that detailed not only the harassment allegations against Cuomo but also efforts by his staff to discredit some of his accusers.

But at 62, Hochul is an experienced politician, a veteran of 11 campaigns that have taken her from town board to Congress, the latter representing a conservative western New York district after a surprising 2011 win in a special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. House.

“Pragmatic would be a good way to describe her,” said Jacob Neiheisel, an associate political science professor at the University at Buffalo. “Someone who is pretty good at reading the tea leaves and coming around to where her constituency is.”

Hochul’s office declined an interview request.