New York's government will see a housecleaning with its imminent change in leadership, the state's governor-to-be Kathy Hochul said Thursday.
She also waded -- tentatively -- into the quickly intensifying debate on COVID and schools, saying that while she's not governor yet, it's her "opinion" that everyone in schools, students and staff alike, should be wearing masks.
"My view is that ... people will be, children and everyone in a school environment, will be wearing masks. That's just an opinion right now, I don't have the authority to make that the policy.
"I believe that there'll end up being mask mandates, I just don't have the authority at this moment."
Hochul, in her first sit-down TV interview since Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he would resign, told the TODAY Show she would have no tolerance for the kind of conduct alleged to have been rampant in Cuomo's office.
"Very first steps will be ensuring that anyone who's named in the report released by the attorney general being involved in any kind of unethical behavior, will no longer be part of this administration. They're gone on day one," she said. "We're going to follow the law. I mean, the law prohibits the kind of behavior that was conducted here, and I want to make sure there's a message that 'I'm tough. I'm not going to put up with anything that crosses the line or even comes close to the line.'"
The interview came the day after an Albany press conference where the current lieutenant governor promised New Yorkers she would "fight like hell for you every single day."
Hochul, a western Empire State Democrat unfamiliar to many even after six years as lieutenant governor, will become the state's first female governor on Aug. 24, following a remarkable transition period in which Cuomo has said he will stay on and work to ease her into a job that he dominated over his three terms in office.
(Amid reports that the two haven't even spoken in six months, Hochul acknowledged Wednesday that she hasn't had an especially close relationship with her two-time running mate.)
The 62-year-old said she spoke with Cuomo the day he resigned and he pledged his full support for a smooth transition. Hochul reiterated comments she made a day ago, calling Cuomo's resignation "appropriate and in the best interest of the state. While it's not expected, it's a day for which I'm prepared," she said.
She added Thursday that she "fully expects" to run for a full term as governor next year.
Right now, though, Hochul is trying to focus on the admitted challenges ahead of her and reintroducing New Yorkers to the woman most haven't known so well as a politician. Her initial remarks opened with humor -- "Sounds like there's an audio problem. What a great start" -- and quickly moved to the point, lending New Yorkers some insight into the woman who will help lead the charge out of the COVID pandemic and put the scandal-plagued term of her predecessor behind them.
"People will soon learn that my style is to listen first, then take decisive action," Hochul said, noting she planned to address the public again after her swearing-in in 13 days to "lay out my vision for the great state of New York."
She acknowledged she has more than a few challenges awaiting her, including tackling the COVID pandemic and the latest delta variant surge, assuaging anxious parents, students and teachers who are worried about returning to school next month and reassuring small businesses that they can and will come back.
Over the next few weeks, Hochul said she wanted to spend time building out her senior staff, working with partners to devise new solutions to ongoing issues and traveling statewide to meet New Yorkers and "assure them I've got their backs."
On COVID-19, Hochul said she believes the way out of the pandemic -- vaccination, in her words -- has been clear for some time. She plans to work with low vaccination rate communities to boost protection across the state. In the meantime, Cuomo will still make those related decisions for the next 13 days.
After that, "All options are on the table -- and I will look at trends with healthcare and the CDC," Hochul said. "The answer is simple -- more vaccines -- and we will target to make it more widely available."
Cuomo, 63, announced Tuesday that he would step down rather than face a likely impeachment trial over allegations that he sexually harassed at least 11 women, including one who accused him criminally of groping her breast.
The three-term Democrat has continued to deny that he touched anyone inappropriately and said his instinct was to fight back against claims he felt were unfair or fabricated. But he said that with the state still in a pandemic crisis, it was best for him to step aside so the state’s leaders could “get back to governing.”
That job will soon fall to Hochul, who served briefly in Congress representing a Buffalo-area district, but purposely kept a modest profile as lieutenant governor in a state where Cuomo commanded — and demanded — the spotlight. Watch her entire opening address and media Q&A in the player below.
A seasoned veteran of retail politics, Hochul shares some of Cuomo's centrist politics, but is a stylistic contrast with a governor famous for his love of steamrolling opponents and holding grudges.
The married mother of two is well-liked by colleagues who say voters shouldn't confuse her quiet approach under Cuomo with a lack of confidence or competence.
“Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will be an extraordinary governor,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another upstate political veteran, told reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. “She understands the complexities and needs of our state, having been both a congresswoman and having been lieutenant governor for the last several years.”
It remains to be seen how involved Cuomo will be in state government over the next two weeks, or how he'll manage ceding authority, something he rarely did during his time in office.
More on Cuomo Resignation
Leaders in the state legislature have yet to make a firm decision on whether they plan on dropping an impeachment investigation that has been ongoing since March, and which had been expected to accelerate in the coming weeks.
Republicans have urged the Democratic-controlled legislature to go ahead with impeachment, possibly to prevent Cuomo from running for office again. A top Democratic senator says she would "like" to see the investigation move forward. It's still unclear whether that will happen. If it did, it would likely take significant time.