Andrew Cuomo was not the first governor to announce a resignation during the month of August.
Seventeen years ago, on Aug. 12, 2004, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey made a similar announcement. McGreevey, who was married to a woman, announced that he was gay and had had an affair with a man and that he would resign from office.
At the time, I was deputy director of communications in the governor’s office, and I remained in that position through the transition to McGreevey’s successor, State Sen. Richard Codey. Although the circumstances were not identical to the issues that led to Cuomo’s resignation, the experience provides me with an informed perspective to view Kathy Hochul’s transition to New York State’s highest office.
Her first few steps have been good ones. Because of the magnitude of Cuomo’s announcement, it was important that she address New Yorkers quickly and provide assurances that the state is in good hands.
She did that just a day after the governor’s announcement. Her comments were brief and informal, but they set a tone for her administration. She introduced herself to New Yorkers who did not know her, and she reintroduced herself – in gubernatorial terms – to those already familiar with her career.
As Hochul assembles her cabinet and senior staff, she would be wise to fill positions with members of her inner circle – people she has worked with and can count on. When Codey took office, he placed several members of his inner circle in leadership positions in the governor’s office. But he also retained some members of his predecessor’s staff. It could be helpful for Hochul to do the same. She is likely to rid her administration of the Cuomo loyalists, but keeping some seasoned public servants in place could ease the transition. They are the ones with the knowledge and experience to oversee critical state operations.
Codey also established a signature issue – mental health – when he became governor. It was an important issue for New Jerseyans and one that was important for him personally for family reasons. It also made him a governor whose identity was more than just the man who picked up the pieces after McGreevey left office.
Hochul would be well-served to take a cue from Codey. Given the controversies that surrounded Cuomo, she is likely to register high favorability numbers from New Yorkers who view her as a welcome change. But to succeed and establish a legacy of her own, she needs to be known as more than “not Andrew Cuomo.”
Hochul has promised to lay out her vision for the state in an address after she takes office. Battling the pandemic surely will be a priority. The rest is a blank canvas, and it is her turn to paint the picture.
Richard A. Lee is an associate professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University.