Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer appointed Kathleen Courtney Hochul on Monday to succeed David J. Swarts as Erie County clerk, fortifying Democrats' hopes of retaining in November the post they have held for the last 33 years.
Spitzer chose Hochul, 46, over Kevin P. Gaughan, an attorney and former mayoral candidate.
"She was a standout candidate who was chosen based on her previous experience and background," Spitzer spokesman Paul Larrabee said.
The move ranks as a major victory for Leonard R. Lenihan, the Erie County Democratic Party chairman, who never announced his support but had quietly lobbied behind the scenes for Hochul's appointment. She now must run for election in her own right in November for the three years remaining in Swarts' term.
Hochul met Spitzer on Monday in Albany to confirm her appointment, followed by a lengthy discussion on issues facing the clerk's office and the possibility of relocating the Lackawanna toll barrier on the Thruway, a major Hochul project.
"I'm very honored by his confidence in me," she said.
An attorney, Hochul has long been active in local Democratic circles and served on the staffs of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Rep. John J. LaFalce in the 1980s. She has been a Hamburg councilwoman since 1994 and was Swarts' chief deputy in the clerk's office since 2003.
Hochul plans to resign today from the Hamburg Town Board. She will give up that $18,000 salary and take a cut in pay as clerk, moving from $91,000 as deputy to $79,000 as clerk. She has acknowledged that throughout the process and said Monday she was glad to do it.
"It's not about the money, it's about public service," she said. "It's a calling that some people have and some don't. I've got it."
Hochul graduated from Syracuse University in 1980 and Catholic University Law School in 1983. She is married to Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. They have two children.