Gov. Kathy Hochul took to the stage on Tuesday, eager to show New Yorkers she is prepared to steer the state out of a pandemic and transform Albany’s political culture.
Clad in all white, a subtle nod to the suffragettes that paved the way for the first female governor of the state, Hochul said she is ready to be New York’s 57th governor.
“As I undertake the weighty responsibilities before me, know that I have the confidence, the courage and the ability to lead New Yorkers forward and make New York's women proud,” Hochul said during her first address to New Yorkers. “You'll find me to be direct, straight talking and decisive. I will not be deterred.”
Hochul says her first top priority and focus is COVID-19.
With the delta variant sweeping through the state, the governor says she wants a universal mask mandate for anyone entering schools and for school staff to be vaccinated or tested weekly for COVID-19.
“New York is launching a back to school COVID-19 testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient,” Hochul said. “I'm also immediately directing the Department of Health to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools.”
The New York State United Teachers union, which was at first against a vaccine mandate without a testing option, voiced support for these new rules outlined by Hochul for school staff.
“We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “We also support the governor’s move to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level.”
In addition, Hochul says getting rental assistance out to those who need it will also be her day one priority.
The rental assistance program has drawn criticism in recent months and only a fraction of the money from the program has been distributed. To top it off, the eviction moratorium will be expiring at the end of the month.
“I'm hiring more staff to process applications immediately,” Hochul said. “I'm also assigning a top team to identify and remove any barriers that remain.”
Now that former Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned from office amid numerous sexual harassment allegations, Hochul says she also wants to completely overhaul the state’s ethics, transparency and sexual harassment laws.
“I'm directing an overhaul of state government policies on sexual harassment and ethics, starting with requiring that all training be done live instead of allowing people to click their way through a class,” Hochul said.
The governor is expected to announce sometime this week who she will be choosing as the next lieutenant governor.