What’s the Plan, Kathy?

New Yorkers picked Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday. New York Focus staff picked ten questions we’ll be watching for her tenure.

New York Focus   ·   November 9, 2022
Kathy Hochul is now not just New Yorks first woman governor, but the first woman elected governor of New York. | Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

CONGRATULATIONS, GOVERNOR HOCHUL. You are now not just New York’s first woman governor, but the first woman elected governor of New York. When your predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, stepped down amid sexual harassment allegations last summer, he called you “smart and competent” as he prepared to hand over the reins. “We have a lot going on,” he told New Yorkers. But you, he said, “can come up to speed quickly.”

Fifteen months later, you have survived a tumultuous year and change. In the spring, you beat back primary challenges from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on your left and Representative Thomas Suozzi on your right. Last night, you clinched victory over Representative Lee Zeldin, a Trump-aligned Republican. It was much closer than polls had indicated just weeks ago, but it wasn’t a nail-biter. Now that your post is secured, we want to ask you some questions that have been on our minds.

We hope you can get to them all — but if not, don’t worry. We’ll keep asking them, and many more, over these next four years.

JUMP TO TOPICS:

Era of transparency | Funding the climate fight | A new chief judge | The state of surveillance | The fate of bail reform | Housing in the suburbs | Running the prison system | Pressing pause on crypto | Counting corporate handouts | Following campaign finance law

So, how about that ‘new era of transparency’?

In your first weeks as governor, you earned quite a few headlines for your promise to make transparency a hallmark of your administration. So far, we’re still waiting.

Your first budget was, by one measure, the second-most secretive in a century. You pushed major legislation through at the last minute without substantive debate, like an 11-figure blank check for the semiconductor industry. You issued a notable early directive to state agencies to review their compliance with public records access laws, but many of the resulting reports were largely pro forma — the state elections boardoffered a single page — and, in our experience, requesting records remains as maddening a process as ever.

True, after we called you out on your use of slush funds, you did publish a running list of allocations from the $18 billion they hold. That’s more than Cuomo ever did, and it’s a promising step. What’s next? – Akash Mehta, editor-in-chief

Will you fund climate action?

More than three years after New York passed its landmark climate law, core questions about how to translate its targets into action have yet to be addressed. Implementing the law means decarbonizing New York’s economy in just a few decades, with the bulk of the work to be done by 2040 — less than 18 years away.

That will take a lot of upfront investment: roughly $15 billion a year by 2030, according to the state’s own analysis, and $45 billion a year by 2050. Analysts emphasize that the benefits will far outweigh the costs, paying major dividends in reducing pollution and improving New Yorkers’ health. Still, someone needs to cough up the cash up front.

The federal Inflation Reduction Act should help lighten the load, unlocking a total of up to $68 billion in incentives between now and 2050. The state’s Environmental Bond Act, just passed by voters, will bring in another $1.5 billion for emissions reductions over the next few years. But that still leaves a huge gap. Who’s going to close it, and how? The state keeps punting.

The looming budget process puts the ball in your court. Will you propose new taxes on polluters? Endorse a “cap-and-invest” program, as envisaged by some CAC members? Or punt again? – Colin Kinniburgh, climate and environmental politics reporter

Who will you pick to be New York’s next chief judge?

Now that you’ve won a full term as New York’s most powerful politician, you get to handpick one of the state’s other most influential figures: the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.

It might not have been on the top of voters’ minds, but that will be a critical decision.

The last chief judge — Cuomo-appointee Janet DiFiore, who unexpectedly resigned in August — joined forces with other Cuomo-appointed judges to issue a slew of conservative rulings favoring prosecutors over defendants, corporations over workers, and landlords over renters.

Many of those cases were decided by a single vote, meaning that if a more liberal chief judge replaces DiFiore, similar cases could swing in the other direction.

Now, Governor Hochul, you get to choose from a seven-person shortlist that the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination will send by November 25. Then, it’s on to the state Senate for confirmation. – Sam Mellins, senior reporter

Who’s watching New York?

In New York City, there’s an NYPD surveillance camera seemingly on every block. In state-run subway stations, the increasingly ubiquitous — and soon to be mandatoryOMNY tap-to-pay system is operated by Cubic Corporation, a military contractor that has offered its intelligence gathering and drone operation services to the US Department of Defense. Earlier this year, your budget directed hundreds of thousands of dollars to New York’s main fusion center, one of many interagency intelligence-gathering hubs created in the post-9/11 era and now notorious for incompetency and overreach. And just over a month ago, you announced that $20 million in state funding would go toward new police technologies.

When New Yorkers wonder who’s watching us over the next four years, where should we look? – Maia Hibbett, managing editor

What do you really think about bail?

Here are the facts: So far, data show that bail reform has not fueled interpersonal violence, property crime, recidivism, or missed court appearances. On the contrary, research suggests that pretrial incarceration can increase rearrest rates. You seem to recognize this — you’ve asserted as much plainly.

But at the same time, you’ve walked a fine line on bail policy. The “common-sense changes” to the 2019 bail reform laws that you proposed at the 11th hour of this year’s budget process could’ve kept tens of thousands of unconvicted people a year locked up. (What ended up passing will likely affect hundreds instead.)

Did you propose those policies because you thought they were needed? Or was it a response to the narrative spun by tabloid media, powering your opponent’s poll numbers? That narrative won’t stop with last night’s election — conservatives will continue hammering at state Democrats on bail. Will they push you to continue tweaking the law, or will you declare further revisions are off the table? – Chris Gelardi, criminal justice investigative reporter

Will you make the suburbs build more housing?

New York’s suburbs on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley build less housing than almost any others in the country. This drives up rents and home prices, and it means that fewer people can live near jobs and opportunities in New York City.

Earlier this year, you proposed legislation to change this — the first time a New York governor had done so in decades. One measure in your initial budget proposal would have allowed homeowners to build small secondary houses or apartments on their properties. Another would have required towns to allow apartment-style housing near train stations or bus stops.

But suburban politicians strongly decried both measures, and while running for the Democratic nomination, you dropped them not long after proposing them.

Now that you’ve won the general, will these ideas make a comeback? – S.M.

Are you in charge of your prison agency, or is it the other way around?

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which runs the prison and parole systems, is an executive agency, with a commissioner nominated by the governor and an office supposedly under her purview. But the department is playing by its own rules. And you seem to have acquiesced.

You renominated Anthony Annucci — the unconfirmed, acting DOCCS commissioner for nearly a decade now — to head the agency. In March, the Senate declined to put him up for a vote, citing his inaction on prison violence, deaths, and lacking mental health treatment.

Annucci thanked you for his renomination by rebuffingyou on one of the first major pieces of legislation you signed — the parole-reforming Less Is More Act — keeping hundreds who should’ve been released sitting in jail.

And, as we’ve uncovered, DOCCS has routinely violated nearly every major facet of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act, a landmark reform bill. Annucci has handed down at least three internal policies that directly violate HALT. As a result, prisons have illegally sent hundreds to solitary confinement and subjected thousands to conditions the United Nations has deemed torture.

On all of this, you’ve been silent. So who’s the boss here? – C.G.

Will you sign the crypto moratorium?

One item on your list doesn’t depend on the election — although political timing may be part of the reason it’s still TBD. You have so far kept silent on one of the few notable climate bills to pass the legislature this year: a partial moratorium on cryptocurrency mining, which would ban any new, fossil-fuel powered Bitcoin operations for two years while the state studies the industry’s environmental impacts.

You have faced intense pressure from both sides over the bill, with New York City mayor Eric Adams jumping into the fray on the side of industry.

A second, industry-backed bill, which would establish a general taskforce to study crypto’s effects on the state, also passed in June and remains unsigned. Will you sign one? Both? If you sign the moratorium, will you water it down with chapter amendments?

Given the moratorium’s limited scope, your decision would serve less to clamp down on pollution in the short term than to signal the state’s broader priorities in meeting its climate targets. How will energy-intensive industries fit in? – C.K.

What are New Yorkers actually getting for all those corporate subsidies?

Gargantuan corporate subsidies are fast becoming a signature of your governing style.

After months of secret negotiations, you got a lot of positive press (not to mention a couple visits from President Joe Biden) out of your employment-boosting deal with Micron. Job creation makes for great campaign ads, but every job at the new facility will cost more than $600,000 in public dollars — and that’s if Micron meets its promises. (The history of semiconductor deals in New York doesn’t leave us confident.) Meanwhile, you’ve been inflating the number of jobs that will be created by the $850 million you funneled to the billionaire-owned Buffalo Bills for a new stadium.

The research is clear that across the country, “economic development” deals often fail to actually develop the local economy. And in New York, they’re often the least transparent, least democratically conducted expenditures of taxpayer money. Going forward, how will you ensure that New Yorkers aren’t getting ripped off? – A.M.

Will you make sure everyone follows campaign finance law (present company included)?

In January, an election official appointed by Cuomo tallied up the enforcement actions the state Board of Elections had taken against campaigns that had failed to file disclosures in accordance with a 2019 campaign finance law: zero. Out of more than 3,000 campaign-violators, yours was the biggest offender.

But you reversed course. Within four months of when New York Focus and The City broke the faulty disclosure story, your campaign filed the necessary forms. They revealed your top donors to include representatives of the nursing home industry, an area that’s come under fire in the wake of mass Covid deaths and their systematic undercounting under Cuomo.

The previously neglected law was supposed to make their contributions clear from the start: It mandates that officials make public the individuals behind campaign-funding LLCs, which often promote obscurity in electoral funding. It’s just one of many campaign finance measures that really only works if it’s enforced. Even as it’s broken fundraising records, your campaign seems to have cleaned up its own act. How will your administration ensure everyone else complies? – M.H.

New York Focus sent these questions to Governor Kathy Hochul in an email. We’ll update if she gets back to us.

Photos of Chris Gelardi, Maia Hibbett: Elise Swain; of Sam Mellins: Anneke Thorne. Illustrations: New York Focus

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