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Hochul makes history for herself and for Western New York

NEW YORK – Kathy Hochul will become the first lieutenant governor from Buffalo in 120 years thanks to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Election Day win in his bid for a second term.

And she seemed very happy about it all, embracing her daughter, Katie, in their hotel room upon hearing of Cuomo’s victory shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday, and taking the stage at a ballroom at the Sheraton New York about an hour later to declare victory and look forward.

“I am humbled and so honored to be here as your next lieutenant governor,” Hochul said, beaming.

She stressed, though, that the victory was really Cuomo’s.

“Today the people of the state of New York have sent a message loud and clear: They want Gov. Cuomo for four more years,” she said, adding: “I am thrilled to be partner in government because we have so much to do.”

Hochul told the crowd that passing the governor’s Women’s Equality Agenda would be her first priority, but in an interview in her New York campaign office last week, she spelled out a much broader mission.

Most notably, she said she would oversee the state’s regional economic development councils while working on veterans issues.

“My role is extremely defined,” Hochul said in that interview last week. “I will be stepping in, starting in January, spearheading the 10 regional economic development councils, and what I want to do first is to convene the leaders and determine their recommendations, particularly with respect to best practices.”

Former Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, one of the few Western New Yorkers other than Hochul at the Democratic victory party in New York City, said it’s “huge” that Hochul is heading the economic development councils.

“Those councils are key to the entire upstate region, and she’ll hit the ground running,” Masiello said.

In the interview last week, Hochul said she looked at the lieutenant governorship as the culmination of a lifetime of public service.

“I think of this as a four-year opportunity that’s being given to me to come back into public service and to have an impact during those four years,” said Hochul, 56, a former member of Congress and Erie County clerk. “And that’s as far as I’m looking.”

Hochul will succeed Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, a former Rochester mayor who opted against a second term in Albany after spending four years driving across the state to spread the Cuomo administration’s message and attend ceremonial functions.

Masiello said he expects big things from Hochul.

“You have a very strong presence in the Capitol with Kathy Hochul,” said Masiello, a strong Cuomo supporter. “She knows government, she knows politics, she knows how to make things happen.”

The role of New York lieutenant governor includes no constitutional duties other than presiding over the State Senate and waiting to take power if the governor travels out of state, falls ill, resigns or dies. In fact, two lieutenant governors in the last 40 years have grown so frustrated that they ended up challenging their bosses in the next election.

Hochul will be the first lieutenant governor from the Buffalo area since William F. Sheehan, a former state assemblyman from Buffalo who served as the state’s second-in-command from 1892 to ‘94.

More recently, though, Stan Lundine, a former congressman from Jamestown, served as Gov. Mario Cuomo’s lieutenant governor for two terms in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

Hochul is a ground-breaker in another way, too. She’s the first Democratic woman to be elected lieutenant governor since Mary Anne Krupsak served under Gov. Hugh Carey from 1976 through ‘78.

Hochul’s ascension to the lieutenant governorship in January will mark a remarkable political comeback for a familiar political face from Western New York whose career began on the Hamburg Town Board.

After winning a special election for Erie County clerk in 2007 and a full term three years later, Hochul won a surprise victory in New York’s conservative-leaning 27th congressional district in a May 2011 special election, only to narrowly lose her seat 18 months later to former Erie County Executive Chris Collins, a Republican, after redistricting turned the district even more red.

Longtime Hamburg residents, she and her husband – William J. Hochul, U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York – then moved into the city of Buffalo as Kathy Hochul took an executive position with M&T Bank.

“What you get with me, really, is the complete package of experience, so I could step in if necessary,” Hochul said in the interview last week.

Cuomo pulled her back into politics in May, telling The Buffalo News, “I think there’s a chemistry between us,” and telling voters in a video that Hochul was an excellent choice for upstate New York.

“We have a person who knows upstate New York and the needs of upstate New York, a person who knows Western New York and the particular needs of Western New York and what we’re trying to get done,” he said in the video unveiling his choice of Hochul.

In his interview with The News, Cuomo called Hochul “a great politician” with a natural ability to connect with voters.

Yet despite her formidable political skills Hochul faced an unexpectedly fierce primary battle for the nomination for lieutenant governor, as Columbia University law professor Tim Wu challenged her from the left.

Armed with a New York Times endorsement that dismissed Hochul as “a conservative woman from upstate New York” despite her 60 percent liberal voting record in Congress, Wu attacked Hochul for voting against gun control while in Congress, even though she later swore her allegiance to Cuomo’s controversial “SAFE Act.” Wu also attacked Hochul for her opposition, as Erie County clerk, to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

With New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the rest of the state’s Democratic machinery supporting her, Hochul defeated Wu by a 59.9 percent to 40.1 percent margin. Even so, Wu took Manhattan, the Hudson Valley counties including the Capital region and a batch of counties surrounding the liberal stronghold of Ithaca.

Fresh from her primary victory, Hochul went back on the campaign trail, dividing her time between the Buffalo area, the rest of upstate and the New York City region.

Joining her on occasion was de Blasio, who took the stage at the Sheraton to praise Cuomo and the other elected Democrats.

“It’s time to welcome a bright new leader for our state, our new lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul,” de Blasio said.

email: jzremski@buffnews.com