Gov. Kathy Hochul career path littered with lucky breaks

It’s been a series of fortunate events for Gov. Hochul.

The 63-year-old upstater rose to the top job in Albany after a career spent falling into ever-greater professional achievements.

“She’s like the Forrest Gump of New York state politics — but without the ping-pong skills,” said one Republican elected official who knows her.

The good news started for Hochul in 1994 when she was appointed to fill a vacant seat on the five-member Hamburg Town Board, which governs a Buffalo ‘burb of 56,000 people. She filled a seat left open when Patrick H. Hoak resigned to become the town supervisor. She was 35 years old. She already had an active career in Democratic politics and her husband William Hochul was a rising Democratic player serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Western District of New York.

Thomas Quatroche, who is today CEO of Erie County Medical Center, served with Hochul on the town board during the 1990s and said she was unanimously chosen for the job by other members of the Democrat-controlled board. The appointment allowed her to get the elected job without facing voters — a theme that has emerged again and again throughout her career.

Kathy Hochul swearing-in ceremony for Hamburg Town Board on Jan. 9, 1996.
Personal, Kathy Hochul

“She was active in the community. She had a background in the job [working previously as an aide to Rep. John J. LaFalce and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan], had a law degree. It was a natural,” Quatroche told The Post. By all accounts she proved popular and was elected to a full term in the seat by voters after her appointment — until fate called again.

In 2003, Erie County Clerk David Swarts plucked Hochul to serve as his deputy, replacing Kenneth Kruly, who left the job to become head of government relations at Canisius College. She held the position while still working on the Hamburg board.

Swarts said he first met Hochul in the 1970s when he worked as an assistant to state Assembly Speaker Stanley Steingut and Hochul worked as an intern in the Speaker’s Buffalo office while a student at Syracuse University. They reconnected and became friendly while working in Washington DC in the 1980s.

“We interacted on campaigns whether they were presidential, or statewide or local races and we were both strong Democrats,” Swarts said, explaining his decision to appoint her.

Fortune came calling again when Swarts was appointed commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles by Gov. Spitzer and Hochul moved into his job as Erie County Clerk, bypassing voters again for another elected position. She later won the position in her own right in a 2010 election.

In 2011 she moved up again, this time to Congress. But the election was unusual. GOP Rep. Chris Lee had been forced to resign after soliciting women on Craigslist. A special election was called in the red district. Hochul won it narrowly, but only with a big assist from Jack Davis, a Tea Party spoiler who drew more than 10,000 votes away from Republican candidate Jane Corwin.

Rep. Kathy Hochul participates in a mock swearing-in with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and her daughter Katie Hochul and husband Bill Hochul in the Speaker's ceremonial office at the US Capitol June 1, 2011.
Rep. Kathy Hochul participates in a mock swearing-in with then-Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and her daughter Katie Hochul and husband Bill Hochul in the Speaker’s ceremonial office at the US Capitol June 1, 2011.
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Hochul’s time in Congress was short. For the first time, her political career suffered a bout of misfortune after she was redistricted into facing even more right-leaning voters. She failed to win reelection against Chris Collins in 2012.

Upstate conservatives do not remember her fondly.

“I know her very well,” hissed former GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. “She started out being appointed and she was appointed all the way up and never really earned it. She’s clueless, absolutely clueless.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik was similarly dismissive.

“After the mainstream media is done regurgitating the laughably glowing profile pieces of Governor Hochul, they will find a politician who has changed her positions even more than gun-under-her-bed Gillibrand!” she said. “No one in New York State politics will be able to keep up with Kathy Hochul’s politically desperate lurch to the Left to try to navigate and avoid a perilous Democrat primary.”

The Congresswoman added: “With ethics scandals brewing, Cuomo appointees staying put, and the nursing coverup scandal ongoing, the media should learn the lesson from the Cuomo years that instead of shilling for the Democrat Governor for decades, they should do digging on behalf of the people of New York.”

Governor Kathy Hochul
Gov. Kathy Hochul rose to the top job in Albany after a career spent falling into ever-greater professional achievements.

Hochul’s Phoenix-like public career was resurrected after Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy decided to jump ship, and Gov. Cuomo selected Hochul to replace him on the ticket for his 2014 campaign. Though the job is mostly ceremonial, she fought off a bruising primary challenge from then-City Councilman Jumaane Williams in 2018.

Hochul became governor on Aug. 24, after a disgraced Cuomo, facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment, resigned.

“Everybody comes to office in various ways. I am not sure what difference it makes,” Democratic State Sen. Diane Savino told The Post. “It’s how you serve, not how you got there that matters to most people.”

Meredith Kelly, a Hochul advisor, suggested the idea the governor received any lucky breaks was sexist.

“When men move up to higher office, they are called talented, but apparently when women do the same, they are just lucky,” she said. “Kathy Hochul has been a public servant for 27 years, working at every level of New York government, delivering results for New Yorkers and winning tough elections. She’s not to be underestimated.”

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