Cuomo successor Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul distances herself in first comments since his resignation


(CNN)New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday distanced herself from outgoing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace a day earlier with impeachment looming following the release of a report that found he sexually harassed 11 women.

In her first public comments since Cuomo’s stunning announcement, Hochul, a Buffalo native who is poised to become the state’s first female governor, insisted that she had not been previously aware of the allegations in state Attorney General Letitia James’s damning investigation and vowed to clean house in the executive chamber.

“I’m going to stand right here at the end of my term, whenever it ends, no one will ever describe my administration as a toxic work environment,” Hochul said, while also pledging to purge anyone “who is named as doing anything unethical in the report” from her administration.

    Hochul is in her seventh year as Cuomo’s deputy, but the two were not reputed to have a close relationship — a point she stressed repeatedly when taking questions from reporters in Albany. She also appeared to express frustration with Cuomo’s decision to delay his departure for two weeks from Tuesday. Still, Hochul said she has begun the work of putting together a senior staff and had been in contact with top New York officials, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, along with other regional governors.

      “It’s not what I asked for,” Hochul said of the two-week hiatus. “However, I’m looking forward to a smooth transition, which (Cuomo) promised. He spoke to me about wanting to make sure that the transition to continuity is important.”

        Hochul demurred on two points: whether she would consider pardoning Cuomo if he was convicted on any potential criminal charges, calling it “far too premature to even have those conversations,” and if she believed the impeachment process should continue.

        “I’ve been in this business long enough to know that is not the purview of the New York state governor to dictate to the New York state Assembly or to the Judiciary Committee on what actions they should take next with respect to anything,” Hochul said, “particularly impeachment.”

          The lieutenant governor was less circumspect when it came to questions about the makeup of her administration following years of complaints — many of them described in detail by the attorney general’s report — of a bitter and dysfunctional executive chamber.

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          “There will be turnover, there’ll be turnover,” Hochul said of the staff that currently occupies those offices.

          Cuomo has denied all of the most serious allegations against him, saying he never touched anyone inappropriately, but acknowledged that some of his behavior made others uncomfortable.

          But Hochul cast herself as removed from both the allegations and culture in Cuomo’s executive chamber. Twice during the press conference, Hochul insisted that she and Cuomo were distant partners.

          “I think it’s very clear that the governor and I have not been (close), physically or otherwise,” Hochul said of her time as lieutenant governor. Hochul will name her replacement and said that she expected to make a decision before taking office herself in 13 days.

            Asked about another scandal that looms over Cuomo, surrounding the underreporting of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes during the early stages of the pandemic, Hochul hinted that she would be open to releasing more state data.

            “My administration will be fully transparent when I’m governor,” she said. “I’m not governor yet.”