Kathy Hochul is the governor of New York. She served as the state’s lieutenant governor.
This interview with Ms. Hochul was conducted by the editorial board of The New York Times on May 31.
Read the board’s endorsement for the Democratic gubernatorial primary here.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Thank you, Governor, for coming today. We, as you can tell, are going to have some colleagues on the screen and then, of course, in the room. I wanted to start actually by just talking a little bit about what you see as your signature issue as governor. Give us the one-minute version of what your vision is and the impact that you want to have as governor.
Yeah, I’ve quickly become a crisis manager. Stepping into the job unexpectedly. Difficult circumstances. The state was in turmoil. So much had not occurred that should have occurred in the previous months. So I had to step in and start fixing things. And that meant getting $2 billion out for excluded workers, a billion dollars for people who needed to get directly. All of this was jammed up when I took office. Had to deal with not one but two hurricanes and the cleanup in the aftermath of the loss of 13 lives.Hurricane Ida caused flash flooding across New York, including in the Queens neighborhood of East Elmhurst. In New York City, at least 13 people died, most of whom were trapped in flooded basement apartments. Many others lost their homes to the destruction. And I’ve been dealing with the pandemic at the same time as the numbers started going up, and we had to adapt our response, vaccine mandates, not mandates, masks in schools. So we had a lot of decisions.
But I’ve learned about myself, even more so, and my leadership style. It’s collaborative, but it’s very decisive. You know, I see a problem, I tackle it, I move on, because there’s always another one right behind it. So my signature approach is to realize that the core of everything I do, my job is to protect New Yorkers. I have to protect them from crime. I have to protect them from Covid. I have to protect them from losing their homes. I have to protect them from losing their jobs when they didn’t have child care. So I feel a moral responsibility as a leader of this state to protect New Yorkers in every way I can.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Five years from now, assuming you are elected, what do you want your legacy to be? What do you, what is the thing that you hope — I mean, of course, dealing with the crisis, day-to-day crises is important — but what do you hope to use this platform that you have to accomplish?
I’d hope in five years and even beyond that history will judge this time, judge me on how we brought the state and the city back after the pandemic. We were the epicenter of the pandemic. We were knocked down to our knees. We still have businesses that are suffering. We still have moms who can’t go back to work because their child care provider doesn’t, isn’t back there anymore. We’ve — our health care system was brought to its knees.
The disparity in outcomes between Black and brown communities and white communities is abhorrent. There were so many things that emerged, and even the educational disparities, the digital divide was so crystal clear to us, and we saw that kids were not learning.
I talked to a minister up in Harlem who told me he used to go to McDonald’s every morning and take a class — his wife is a teacher — take a class of kids and ask, “If I bought them all breakfast, can they use your internet connection so they can sit here and get some learning in?” That wasn’t happening in Westchester. So I’m angered by that. But I also know that my legacy is that we’re going to try our very best to eradicate all those disparities. I have a commission that’s convening not just to look at the response at the time. We’re not looking to point fingers, but I need to know what went right and went wrong and focus on what went wrong so we fix it. And that’s the challenge we face. And to restore that sense of exceptionalism that we all have as New Yorkers, bring this city back and make people feel proud of it again.
You know, I spoke at 9/11 yesterday, the 20th anniversary of when, after 260 days, they closed up and finished the recovery, the rescue-recovery effort. And we talk about how knocked down so hard that no one ever thought that Lower Manhattan would rebuild and come back the way it did. I want the legacy of our administration to be the one that said, “Look, look back at what they did,” 20 years, 30 years, 50 years from now. And I expect to be judged that way.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Mara?
Mara Gay: In a previous political lifetime, you had a very different position on guns. Obviously the country is enmeshed in a very painful conversation around guns. As a member of Congress, you received an endorsement from the N.R.A. You once voted to allow individuals to carry, to conceal and carry.In 2011, when Ms. Hochul was a member of the House of Representatives, she voted for the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, which would have expanded the right to carry concealed firearms across state lines. This would have eroded state authority to determine who is permitted to carry a concealed weapon within its borders. The bill died in the Senate. And then when you became lieutenant governor, your views and constituency certainly changed. What’s really in your heart about guns? Can you talk to us about that?
I lived in a different culture. In my congressional district, I remember going to a Christmas party. And I was the county clerk before that. I oversaw the pistol permit office. So I, it was, I mean, I ran the D.M.V.s, I ran the court clerks, I ran the land records. One of the responsibilities is running the pistol [inaudible] permit office. And I know how long it took. It took a long time. It took about a year to get a pistol permit, which is another topic. I want to make sure that happens. We’re going to pass the legislation this week.Ms. Hochul signed a comprehensive series of gun-safety bills into law on June 6. One measure raises the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle to 21.
So I would go to a Christmas party, and members of the Working Families Party and the Democratic Party would come up to me and say, you know, “How’s my pistol permit going?” So there was, it was a different culture there, but that was the representation I had then. I’ve evolved dramatically, especially after Sandy Hook. It was 10 years ago, and I said no more.
I mean, you can’t, if you’re going to fight background checks, something that we did in New York, that’s something I was responsible for — making sure there were mental health checks and state police checks and neighbor checks. I know what a background check is all about. My office had to conduct them, make sure they were done thoroughly. And we couldn’t do that after the slaughter of first graders at Sandy Hook? So I became converted, in a sense, like not many people have. That evolution is an evolution that we need to have more people have. And I’m the best person to talk about that. And that’s why we have to change the hearts and minds of people right now.
And I was reading an article yesterday about an N.R.A. member who took his — in Texas — took his AR-15 and turned it in to the local police department, and he says, I’m done with this. I don’t want to be part of this anymore. We’re at an awakening time. And this is an opportunity for me to lead with bold plans, be nation leading and leave no stone unturned. ’Cause I understand the cultural differences. I know the resistance that’s going to be out there, and I can speak that language and help them understand. I understand the Second Amendment, but that doesn’t know how to protect military-style assault weapons or the ability of someone to go to Pennsylvania and to buy a 30 magazine capacity, high-capacity magazine that slaughtered my neighbors in Buffalo. So I’m — this is a cause for me. This is a cause.
Mara Gay: Do you own a gun?
Mara Gay: Did you ever own a gun?
Eleanor Randolph: If the Supreme Court rules against the New York law,State law currently requires that people who want a license to carry a gun in public show “proper cause.” how do you see New York getting around that?
Well, we’re not telegraphing right now because the decision isn’t rendered, and we don’t want anything we say or do to affect that in the sense that … I want to see what they come down with. We’ve already had a lot of conversation about this. My team, ever since this case went to the Supreme Court, we knew a decision would be rendered literally in June. So we’re prepared, and I’m prepared to call the legislature back to find a way that we believe will legally find a way to allow us to do what we want to do, which is to protect New York.
This law, this wasn’t even part of the Safe Act.The first major set of state-level gun bills that was passed after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. This, the law that’s challenged has been in effect since early 1900s. And I had people come in my pistol permit office and ask for concealed carry. We told them no. I mean, unless you’re law enforcement, you know, a security guard or have a reason, we can’t just say, “I’m afraid.” I don’t want him to be able to walk into the next Tops grocery store in Buffalo with something legally hidden in their pocket. And then we’re Wild West. That’s the Wild West. We’re not going there. So we’ll find a way.
I’ll call back the legislature, I’ve already put them on notice. Are you ready to adapt your plans? Or maybe it’ll happen soon enough. Well, it hasn’t happened. They’ll be gone Thursday or Friday, so I’ll take whatever. I called them back my first week on the job to deal with the eviction moratorium that, it was supposed to end Sept. 1. I said the money didn’t get out. It’s not their fault. We can’t punish people. All over the country, it all ended Sept. 1. I moved it to Jan. 15. I got the legislature back. So I’m prepared to do the same thing.
Mara Gay: There’s a lot to go over with gun policy. We have so much to cover here. I don’t want to go too deep into the weeds, but could you give us a top-line sense of what could be done to strengthen the state’s red-flag implementation rather than the law? Because the criticism is that the training hasn’t happened, that police departments across the state don’t, aren’t aware of what needs to be done to prevent shootings like what happened in Buffalo.
Well, you hit right on it. A law doesn’t mean anything if people don’t understand it or that they’re afraid to go too far. I want people to feel — I’d rather go too far on the front end than afterward, when we connect the dots, say, “Oh, that one could have been prevented.” That’s not OK.
Just a couple of days ago, I convened our intra — I have an interstate, nine-state group of, dealing with, they’re dealing with gun interdiction, but I brought together everybody in the state and says, “I don’t want us to be in the business of solving crimes. I want us to be in the business of preventing these crimes.” So you have the tools, you know, whether it’s the social media component or whatever, but the red-flag law that I do with executive action. I didn’t even wait for the legislature.
I told the state police, you will use your judgment. You will understand that your job is to get that extreme protect, order of protection in place when you see the signs that you’ve been trained to. Now that’s my state police. What the law is saying is part of a comprehensive package that we’re working with the legislature to get through this in a couple of days.
It’ll require all people to have to follow stricter standards and be looking for. And when a flag comes up, I try to remember the language. I was looking at it late last night. But it’s a lower standard. It’s a lower standard than had been in place before. And the training has to occur, and we’ll take that on. I told my head of state police, “We’re responsible for this.” I want to make sure that everybody understands, not just law enforcement, schoolteachers, guidance counselors, coaches, parents.
Mara Gay: Just to drill down on that: What specifically is your office doing to ensure that local police departments and local school districts are —
We’re requiring them to be trained. We are putting together the training program to do this. We’re doing it right now. And that’s getting out there. I’m very impatient. I’m not waiting for the next mass casualty to happen in our state.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
Kathleen Kingsbury: I want to change topics. Nick, do you want to ask about Brian Benjamin?Ms. Hochul’s former lieutenant governor and running mate, who resigned after Manhattan prosecutors brought bribery charges against him.
Nick Fox: Yeah. You’ve been criticized for the vetting of Brian Benjamin, but you didn’t really need to vet him. A Google search would’ve found people who supposedly gave to his campaign and never even heard of him. One of the donors was the 2-year-old grandson of an alleged partner in crime. He had suspicious reimbursements from his campaign for personal expenses, apparently including his wedding celebration. As a state senator, he was paid by his former company and lied about it. He had to resign from the board of another company after he was criticized for working with a major player in the subprime, subprime mortgage crisis. Apparently, it was no secret that he had tax — why were you in such a hurry to appoint him?
We were a state in crisis. We didn’t have leadership. I had to step in. I needed to let people know that I’d also have someone at my side who could step in if necessary. But I’ll tell you, that was, personally, very not just disappointing. It was painful to realize that, you know, there were things, signs that were missed, that more could have been done.
I had a very small team. I certainly wasn’t going to rely on the Cuomo people to do our vetting for us. I was still lieutenant governor. I was still lieutenant governor. And we had to start the vetting process and to use a very small group of people. And yes, I would say the system did not work. We’ll get it right. We’ll get it right this time. And that is something I take seriously because I made a commitment to New Yorkers when I was sworn in. And I want to restore their faith in government. That was a setback. And I have the responsibility to restore that faith again. And I do believe that, you know, we had more time. I had more resources, more staff. The work that we did to vet my new lieutenant governor, Antonio Delgado was, was successful. And as people get to know him, they’ll understand why I selected someone of his caliber.
Nick Fox: I still don’t understand the hurry. I mean, it was about two weeks it took to pick him. There is a constitutional line of succession if you needed a successor, which I [inaudible]. Why did you need to go to a guy that had so many red flags? I can tell you, even when we were considering him in his comptroller campaign, all this stuff came up.
The early vetting process did not work. I didn’t personally conduct it, but I take full responsibility for everything that happens. It’s my job as a leader. I was also trying to find a chief of staff and a secretary to the governor and the head of state operations. And I had to get a legal counsel. I had nobody. I had nobody. So I, I rely on people. I identify, I said, I want someone who’s, you know, someone I can trust, someone that’s, I’ve worked with before. I had gone to Harlem many times with Brian Benjamin. I know he was well liked in his district. We spent time together.
But I said mistakes were made. And what I’m saying is I understand that. I understand the weight that’s on my shoulders to get it right and never let that happen again. I was able to find Kathryn Garcia to run state operations, Karen Keogh, Liz Fine, you know, Hope Knight to be head of economic development, Adrienne Harris to be head of, you know, the regulator Wall Street unit. And I was focused on diversity. So I have the most diverse — racially, ethnically but also gender-wise — administration that the state has ever seen and may ever see in the future. That was, I had to put together an entire team. Who’s going to run my homeland security? I have a hurricane I’m cleaning up after. Who’s running my state operations?
I mean, it was, it was a time when there was not — I’m going to accept responsibility. I’ll just do that, because it was not done right. It was enormously, personally disappointing to know that that happened. And it won’t happen again.
Nick Fox: Just one quick thing. Did anyone tell you, “Watch out for this guy”?
No. Because — let me put it this way. Absolutely, if I knew now, knew then what I know now, why would I select someone like that? I was basing on a relationship I had with him independent. I had worked with him in the legislature. I’d gone to his district. I’d gone to events with him. I knew him as a person. I didn’t know this. And no, I didn’t do personal Google searches, and our team failed in that regard. We did not have the information. Or they asked him questions; he answered them satisfactory to the people that were doing it. But I had a very small team. But the buck will always stop with me. I accept that.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Jyoti, do you want to ask about —
Jyoti Thottam: Cuomo or domestic?
Kathleen Kingsbury: Whichever you would prefer.
Jyoti Thottam: Again, just looking at what you inherited: Governor Cuomo was widely criticized for certain parts of the way he handled the pandemic, specifically nursing homes.A state audit found that health officials under Mr. Cuomo’s administration concealed the deaths of 4,100 nursing home residents during the first year of the pandemic. So I wanted to ask you what you have done in the years since you’ve taken office to improve that situation to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And then, just separately, is there anything you would have done differently in your handling of the pandemic?
Well, the first thing I did very early in my administration was bring in the families who wanted someone to at least acknowledge that they were owed an apology. I brought them in. They have been very vocal in their criticism. And I said, you know, these are human beings who lost a loved one. They lost a parent, lost a grandparent. They lost an uncle. Just bring them in and treat them like human beings. Acknowledge their pain. And vow to do better. And I told him that I would at the right time.
You know, we are still dealing with the remnants of Delta. We had a drop for about three weeks, and then we had Omicron. And I watched the numbers like a hawk. It’s the first thing I do every morning. I mean, is there anything happening? What are our hospitals looking like? What are our nursing homes looking like?
So we had a difficult situation at a time then, and I’ll give you this other challenge we had in the fall when I was taking on. I wanted health care workers to be vaccinated. I didn’t think that anybody going to a hospital or a nursing home should encounter someone who was supposed to make them healthy who actually could give them the virus. That was more resistance than anything I’ve done yet.
But we fought through it. We needed to. We stood firm, and I wanted — I said, I have to protect the nursing homes. We saw the vulnerability. So every time we had, you know, an effort toward getting more vaccines out and boosters, job No. 1: Get them to the nursing homes. Get them to the nursing homes. No excuses. Call them up. Did they administer them? Did they need help? I literally sent the National Guard into nursing homes. Unprecedented step I took, because we had a shortage of workers once I required that they had to be vaccinated. And secondly, a lot of them were getting sick themselves, and someone is walking off the job. So it was too much.
So I had to bring in resources to make sure that this, the most vulnerable population in our state had more protection than anybody. Test kits went there first. Like, I kept the rules in place to make sure we limited visitors for the longest time. And I knew it was painful, but I had to do this to protect them. So having learned that lesson or saw what happened under my predecessor, I said, “How do we not protect them the most? Sending people back who are Covid positive.” It was wrong.
Mara Gay: Do you think the public is owed, in general in New York, an apology from — obviously you were not governor at the time — but from, I guess, yourself or the administration or the leaders of the state, of the city. Given how Covid unfolded in New York and the mistakes that were made early on, is there a broader apology that is owed to the residents of New York?
I do think that the residents of New York, on balance, thought that a lot of decisions were made that were intended to protect them. That shutting things down quickly — and I’m not going to armchair quarterback all this, but I have a group of independent researchers and investigators and a team who will. I will await the judgment on that because I want a very thorough analysis. The good, the bad, the ugly. I said to let us know what — and I’m bringing together outside consultants, not the same consultants that were advising the previous administration, because everybody’s going to want to make sure, like, they look like they did everything right.
I want to know, “Could different decisions have been made?” But you look at other states, no other state was hit as hard as we were. No other state had, had trucks to take — it was hard. And I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Everyone lived through this. No other state suffered as much as we did. And I do believe that, that my predecessor worked hard to ensure that people felt trust and confident in what was going on. That was a point of those daily press conferences. That was his effort to — and again, I don’t really want to be talking about him today, but, you know, he had his approach. And if you look at what people said at the time, that was comforting to them.
But as we analyze it and look at the different decision points along the way, I’m sure there’ll be experts who will tell us these were done right, these were done wrong, and these are in a gray area. My responsibility as governor is to put it all together and hand it off to the next leaders and say, “If there is a pandemic ….” And it may not be every hundred years anymore. It may be every couple of years, where our vaccines that we’re relying on now — I just had Covid the first time in two years, on Mother’s Day. I got it going down to see my new grandbaby. So I was very sad I didn’t get on the plane. I’m glad I didn’t get on the plane. I’m glad I didn’t get on the plane. But because I was double boosted, it was my, other people early on didn’t have that. But it turns out that the next variant comes through, and everything we’ve done is not protecting us anymore, and we start over from Square 1. I have to be ready for that.
This is what I think about: I think about the worst-case scenario. Anything that can happen. And at the same time, another hurricane is going to hit us. I mean, this is, you know, this is, I don’t know if I’m just hard-wired to think of the worst and then how I get through it. I have to have a plan. I have to be ready for it.
So the answer is, if the people of New York want an apology, I’ll give them an apology. Certainly those nursing home families deserved one, and I gave it to them. And I’ll continue working with them. But I also had to be focused on preparing for the future. That’s why back in November, the day that Omicron was, was named as a variant, I ordered, I said, “I want to amass every single test kit I can.” I said, “I don’t want to tell the people of this state there are not enough test kits, there’s not enough medications.” I said, “Start stockpiling.” So I had 92 million test kits that I got out to schools, nursing homes, prisons, jails. That was my job. That was an intense time running sort of military style operation, you know, deploying. I had National Guard in hospitals. I had them all over the place.
Jyoti Thottam: What would you have done differently?
What would I have done differently? I would have involved the local health departments. This was so driven from the top. Because I was out there in the battlefield. I was working hands on in the western New York upstate response. And I work with the county leaders. I convened phone calls every week with them. Actually every day for a while. And then every three days. At least it went up to every week, but initially it was every day phone calls.
And they had people, public health people that were trained. Like they said, this was like getting ready for their own — their words — “This is our Super Bowl. We train our whole lives to be ready for something like that. We’ve dealt with all the other viruses that have come through. We’re ready for this one.” And there was, decisions were made to say, “No, no, only the state can make these decisions.” And you lost that local buy-in to get them engaged and helping us get, you know, the test, testing sites up and the vaccines out there and the boosters. I wouldn’t do that. I come from local government. I understand that they need to be brought in at the table, and they were not during this entire process. I changed that immediately. I changed that immediately.
Kathleen Kingsbury: I want to turn to a more current crisis. Binya, do you want to jump in on housing, please?
Binya Appelbaum: Governor, your administration backed a modest but useful change that would have made it easier to build accessory dwelling units.A term for secondary housing structures on the property of existing homes. in areas like Long Island and then backed away from it because the reaction was so negative. I’m curious: Generally, how do we make progress on making it possible to build more housing in places like Long Island in the face of intense local resistance? How does your administration move forward?
Before the pandemic, we had an affordability crisis in housing. Now it’s a crisis on steroids. It has gotten so much worse. And I’m approaching the need for more affordable housing from many fronts.
One is, what I can do directly is to direct and put in my budget $25 billion, unprecedented amount of money, toward building new affordable housing, 100,000 units, of which about 10,000 will be supportive housing. That’s going to take some time to build. I understand that.
I saw accessory dwelling units as I walked the streets not one day, not two but three days after [inaudible]. And then I went back to East Elmhurst after the flood.Last August, Hurricane Henri broke the city’s rainfall record. Just 10 days later, Hurricane Ida’s downpours surpassed it in intensity, destruction and human toll. Because I thought — those people looked at me, and they said: You’re never going to come back here. Here today. I said, “No, I’m coming back tomorrow. I’m coming back.” Those people lived in unregulated basements, and they literally were flooded and died in their homes because no one regulated them. No one made sure that there was an exit. It was just — it was a hellhole where they lived. And they’re mostly new New Yorkers. These were members of the immigrant community. They’re our neighbors.
So I thought one of the ways we could do it is to give the city — particularly what they’re asking for is the ability to have these granny units and have your, you know, your adult kids who can’t afford a place to live with you. But the resistance on Long Island was fierce. And I realize that my experience in local government told me that the way to get the local buy-in is not so much with the stick but with the carrot. So I said, “Let’s come back,” because the legislators, the senators, the assembly members, you know, asked us to take another look at this, so I was responding to them. I said, “I’m not giving up on this,” but I’m going to do is see are there incentives?
I mean, when I was a local government official for 14 years, someone said, “I’ll give you this incentive to do something,” you’ve got my attention. If you’re going to beat me down and say it’s now state overtaking your local zoning, you’re going to get resistance. So we put the ideas forward to start the conversation as well as transit-oriented development. I talked about the places I’ve been, Ronkonkoma and Wyandanch. I mean, these were transformative places, where it’s just been unused brownfields next to transit stations, and all of a sudden they’re beautiful homes for people with affordability.
So I see the future. I know how it should be done. But I also know that you can’t just let people — people have been trying for years — you can’t just come in and overrule local zoning without giving them an incentive. And I can find those incentives, and I’m going to work with them. I’m committed to doing that, but we have to do so much more in the affordable housing space because —
Binya Appelbaum: I’m sorry but why not? These are communities that are essentially operating as private clubs. They’re refusing to permit development of affordable units. When they are incentivized to do so, they occasionally allow the construction of isolated projects. But every assessment of Long Island’s housing needs finds that there are thousands of additional units needed and that there’s no way to build them under current law. Why not require these communities to do their fair share? Every other state in the Northeast has laws that require that. New York stands alone in not legislating requirements for local communities. Why are we the only state that doesn’t impose those standard requirements?
Well, you hit exactly on the answer. The word was “legislate.” The governor puts forth a vision, solutions, ideas in my State of the State and in my budget. But I have to get buy-in from a legislature. That is what I have to work on. And as we’ve seen, many ideas that are powerful and make sense, they take time to develop. If it doesn’t happen the first time, I don’t throw in the towel and say, “I’m done.” I say, “OK, now I need to build a coalition about this.” I need to get people, the residents. Residents have to be educated on how this is beneficial to them to bring more people to their communities and to just, it actually helps expand the tax base. I’ll find all the rationale that I need to use to get the buy-in from the residents to put pressure on their elected officials. I’m figuring out the strategy. I can’t do it alone. If I could, it would be the law of the land.
Mara Gay: One brief follow-up to that. I was on the L.I.R.R. yesterday. All of those train stations that are being constructed. You could theoretically, whether you follow through or not, say no more new infrastructure for Long Island. You control the M.T.A., unless you start buying into a regional housing plan like every other state, as Binya is talking about, so why not use that?
That is definitely an option. You know, we put forth our plan that we’d hope would be accepted. We understood, having seen the resistance, that, OK, there’s got to be another approach. That’s what we’re talking about, building in this off-season, when the sessions, when they’re out of session. I said this is a top priority of mine. But, you know, it’s, it cannot be segregation. You know, I grew up in a household where my parents were fighting segregation in neighborhoods back when I was a kid. I mean, it was not a popular thing to do in a white neighborhood.
But I remember as a child, my parents, there was a program called Housing Opportunities Made Equal. Started back then. And so, this is part of who I am. So I will try to find the answers and work with people and take the ideas from, from our journalists and experts and people in academia to find out how to get this done.
There are places on Long Island that are beautiful examples and transit hubs. You know, like I mentioned, Wyandanch and Ronkonkoma. They are great models that I’m going to go out there and educate and say, “Look at this. This is what you are afraid of? Do you realize how amazing this is? There’s little coffee shops and little stores, and people are living above.”
I’ve walked through these buildings, and no one should be afraid of them. It’s where people deserve to live. Young people, senior citizens, people who are essential workers who don’t have high incomes. It’s going to take a little bit of time. But I’m willing to. I mean, a lot of important ideas take some time. But I’m willing to. I already jumped in the water on this one, and I’m going to keep swimming.
Eleanor Randolph: So, Governor, could we talk a little bit about the potential conflict of interest that people in Albany talk about all the time? First with the Buffalo Billion. And your husband is a lobbyist with Delaware North, and one of your, one of the people on your staff who’s supposed to be looking at your recusal document, her husband works for Bolton St. Johns, which is the lobbying group that dealt with the Buffalo stadium. So how do you deal with the potential for a conflict of interest there? Will you or your family gain anything from the Buffalo stadium,Ms. Hochul helped negotiate a deal with the Buffalo Bills to build a $1.4 billion stadium for the team. Taxpayers will fund much of it. the Buffalo Billion?
Absolutely not. First of all, my husband is not a lobbyist.
Eleanor Randolph: No, I know he isn’t. But he —
But the company, but, but Delaware North, simply provides the concessions. They have nothing to do with the stadium. If the Buffalo Bills went to Los Angeles, like they’re looking to do, which —
Eleanor Randolph: But they hired the lobbyists to do this, well in St. John.
Well, my — all the recusals are handled by Liz Fine, our counsel’s office. Her husband works at the Brennan justice center. So, Liz Fine. I have attorneys who are responsible. I have signed recusal forms back early in my tenure. My husband’s salary has been adjusted. So there’s no, no revenues, no revenues that he takes part of it, in terms of any benefit. This is a very small part of Delaware North’s overall portfolio. From what I read in the paper, they may have operations around the globe. So this is a small part. They just do the concessions. They don’t own the team. They’re just one of the concessionaires.
But I understand when people raise this, I mean, integrity is very important to me. I spent my entire life in public service. My husband was a federal prosecutor for 30 years. He was Barack Obama’s United States attorney. We are well accustomed to the separation that’s required between our careers. We’ve always lived that way. And so he has been, you know, since Donald Trump took office and he left the U.S. attorney, you know, he has been in the private sector. But we are very, very, very careful about not having any involvement or engagement or financial gain that comes from anything involved here. I appreciate the question, but integrity is very important to both of us.
Eleanor Randolph: Let’s go back and talk. Sorry —
Kathleen Kingsbury: Could you speak a little bit more broadly about what you see as the return on investment for this new stadium?
Sure. It’ll pay for itself in a matter of years, for sure. You know, I understand people’s questions about it. It is a regional priority. And just to draw an analogy, I was on Broadway a couple days ago, and I thought, the Buffalo Bills, part of western New York the way Broadway is to New York City. Its unique asset is something that gives you a sense of pride and galvanizes a community that doesn’t have a whole lot sometimes, you know? For a long time, now we have so much more in Buffalo.
For a long time, that was a cohesive part of the community, and they were actually very much able to leave the state. They’re being wooed by larger markets, a very small market. So the timing was not ideal. Barely 30 years, and the stadium started crumbling at the upper decks. They were ready to look at other places if there was not a plan. They asked for 1.4 billion, the whole cost. I said no. Our share ended up being 43 percent of it.
People will criticize. It’s a regional priority, a regional asset, very important to majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Very important to the head of transportation, Senator Tim Kennedy. So the legislators locally, this is very, very important to them as well. It’ll create 10,000 jobs. It’ll pay for itself. The economic benefit from the study we had AECOM do independently just to find out if this made sense. $350 million. That might be on the high end, but the salaries of the players, if you calculated what paid more, the income tax on the salaries of the players will more than pay for the state investment.
So it’s a lot to explain to people. It comes down to a sound bite, you know, giveaways to billionaire donors. They’re not my donors. I never took a dime from them. The state owns the stadium. This is not for them. It’s for the, for the asset, to have that in our community. But I’m going to continue finding ways to lift up all communities and investing in signature projects for them, to have that same sense of pride that I know, as someone from Buffalo, that people have with their other assets. So I’m going to make those investments all over. I understand people’s questions. I really do.
Mara Gay: Great. We’re just going to do a little bit of a lightning round here for fun. How much has the annual ridership of the subway declined since 2019, about? An estimate is fine.
Well, it declined down to about, you know, a small percentage, but right now, we’re at about 60 or 70 percent.
I find the ridership is actually higher. This is funny. It’s declined during normal commuting hours, but it’s up almost back to normal on weekends and evenings. So that says to me, people are, you know, afraid to go to work on the subway, but they’re not afraid to go take the subway. So we’re back up to about 60, 70 percent now.
Mara Gay: Which is about how many million riders?
Three million, three and a half.
Mara Gay: Three and a half, yeah. Under what circumstances are abortions allowed in New York after 24 weeks of pregnancy?
Health of the mother.
Mara Gay: And also viability of the fetus.
Oh, yes, yeah.
Mara Gay: What is the average cost of SUNY tuition, including room and board, for one year?
With or without my tuition assistance plan?
Mara Gay: Full. Full cost.
I don’t know that exactly.
Mara Gay: An estimate is fine.
Mara Gay: 23,000.
Oh, OK. You said room and board?
Mara Gay: Including room and board.
I’m sorry, I fixed on tuition. Ten’s the tuition here. But I am very happy that we now have it available for part-time students. Nobody’s done that before. That was huge. And I hear that everywhere I go. People are so excited they don’t have to try to figure out how to work full time, take a semester off, work full time. Now it’s part time, so I’m really excited about that —
Mara Gay: Sorry, can I speak? It’s the lightning round —
Go ahead, go ahead.
Mara Gay: Thank you. Where’d you go on your last vacation?
Portugal. Um, five, four years ago. Three years ago. Maybe three years ago.
Mara Gay: What is the median sale price of a home in Rochester? A guess is fine.
What part of Rochester? The city? Downtown?
Mara Gay: Well, it’s the median so —
I know the region. Parts of the region is very affluent.
Mara Gay: Rochester proper.
I’d say downtown Rochester, median houses are about 78.
Mara Gay: $180,000. What about —
I’m thinking downtown Rochester. Check on that for me. Because it’s like downtown Buffalo.
Mara Gay: OK. I will. What about White Plains?
Mara Gay: $730,000. And Staten Island?
That always shocks me. The houses are so small. I’d say five or six. Yeah, five or six.
Mara Gay: $640,000. What was your favorite class —
I know what an apartment costs in Brooklyn, too. About four.
Mara Gay: What was your favorite class in high school?
Mara Gay: Great. Thank you for that. So I just wanted to turn to the budget for a moment, Governor. Blair Horner of NYPIRG, the good-government group, said that the budget you negotiated was one of the most secretive he’d ever seen. I mean, first of all, just what is your response to that? I mean, criticism of Governor Cuomo was very similar. But what will you do differently to give us a more transparent budget process? How do you justify that?
I also listen to other voices, someone like Dick Gottfried, who told me it’s the best budget he’s seen in 50 years. We put forth our plan in January. I’m not sure what was secretive about it. I laid it all out. I announced my State of the State. I put forth the budget. It was seen by the world in, in mid-January. And basically most of that budget stayed intact, except we increased it. And the leaders were so stunned because they are so used to the game playing, where they take away money for health care and education and child care and pre-K and the environment.
And then you had to beg to have it out, you had to deal to get it put back in. I said, “I’m not playing games.” I’m more collaborative. I said I would be, and I am. So everybody still didn’t quite trust it when I put forth, you know, transformational amounts of money in, in health care and education and child care infrastructure. We can talk about it. I’m heading over to the East Side Access to make the announcement shortly.
We did it differently, you know. We laid it all out there. And I didn’t make them have to fight, borrow and steal and negotiate. We increased our, our environmental bond act from $3 billion to $4.2 billion. I asked for that increase from what I had inherited. We had our conversation. What I didn’t give people who were the inside watchers was blow after blow of criticism of each other. I think people used to say, oh, you know, now it was this person, this and this. I didn’t do that intentionally because that doesn’t restore people’s faith in government. When you’re out there taking shots at each other and criticizing and just trying to score political points, it, it takes away the face. I didn’t do that. So I put together a budget that is extraordinary.
Mara Gay: Well, I think the question isn’t really about the end result of the budget. The question is about the process and the transparency. So, for example, there was no gaggle of news reporters able to ask questions about the budget. And as you know, some of the most controversial pieces of the budget come together at the last minute. So why not commit to just kind of reintroducing some of the kinds of transparency measures around that, you know, budget season that would make the budget process more transparent in New York rather than a fly by night at the end of the budget session, as it has always been.
That’s true. There’s always been this big ugly where people just put everything at the end. I feel like that’s what’s happening now. At the end of session, where human nature is, you put out ideas. I started meeting with the leadership early in March, you know, just saying, “Hey, how are we going to get there?” I didn’t want to just make it a political battle in the press. I just, I chose not to, because I wanted to be able to have conversations with the two of them and then make some decisions and put it out there afterward. We can always assess the approach we took. This is my first budget and doing it to scale.
I do think that there was a lot of mistrust because they had so, been so conditioned to a certain process, and I had to show them that I really was treating them like partners. We had $2 billion extra in Covid money that I absolutely could have put toward anything I wanted to. And I said, “No, you tell me what you want.” So we put more money toward the ERAP rent relief program after getting our $2 billion out. We’ve added another $800 million. We put in more money for utility, for utilities. I wanted to base it on their priorities so they would have buy-in. I said, “This is a shared document. This is not just the governor’s budget and I’m going to beat you into submission.” We did it differently. And yes, we can talk next year about how to, you know, open it up more.
We’ve had a lot of days where we — I was sick. I don’t know how many days I was without doing a gag line. I know that was frustrating. Also, my entire team had Covid. Everybody on my budget negotiation team were all working remotely. It was tough. I mean, they were dropping like flies. So it was a challenge. I hope to not have that next year. To answer your question, yeah, I understand the question. I look at the results. The results are exceptional. This is an exceptional budget.
Kathleen Kingsbury: I’m concerned we haven’t hit upon two very critical issues. The first of which is public safety right now in the state, at least the perception that crime has risen here in the city and elsewhere. Can you talk a little bit about what you can do right now in order to help that? And then I want to also talk about the M.T.A. as well.
Sure. First of all, there’s a lot of talk about bail reform. I have stood behind reform from Day 1. I said we had an injustice, a system of injustice where two people accused of the same offense, one Black, usually one white. And the white kid, maybe from more affluent means. Parents have money; they post bail. They’re back out at school. They’re back at their jobs. They show up at trial. They have a good lawyer, and they’re off.
Young Black gentleman, kid, teenager, who doesn’t have that support? They’re going to Rikers. They’re going to Rikers. I will say that was wrong for the rest of my life. So I never said anything needed to be changed based on changing that fundamental premise, but what happened is that we had to look at this. A lot of offenses were taken out of consideration for bail, and some of them were gun offenses. And I don’t think there’s anybody who thinks it’s OK that someone could walk on a schoolyard and have a gun. Which was one of those offenses that if there was not, you know, prior history, that person goes before a judge. They’re back out on the street.
I think that I need to insert some comments. There are areas where I don’t even know that the legislators knew exactly where it had been. Repeat offenders, for example. The little grocery stores. I walked to some, and it was a little bodega in the Bronx. And he said, I just leave my grocery store — I leave the cash drawer open every day because they’re going to come in and take the money. Day after day and they’re back to us. So we had to do something.
Hate crimes. Hate crimes have been excluded. We have such a rise in Asian hate crimes and antisemitism. And there’s a fear out there. I go to these — all the time, they’re just generally, one’s too afraid to walk the streets because someone’s going to come and harm them, assault them physically, verbally. So we made a few changes. We dealt with repeat offenders, but that was not the whole problem.
The problem is the guns on the streets. And let’s just acknowledge that, that that access to guns, that pipelines of gunsMany guns are trafficked from Southern states, where gun laws are less restrictive, to Northeastern states, where gun laws are more restrictive, along I-95, which law enforcement officials have nicknamed the Iron Pipeline. that is still coming here is one that I started addressing way before we had the Buffalo massacre or before Texas. I assembled a team to work on this last January. And we’re making progress. We have over 4,000 guns statewide that have been confiscated, including 250 ghost guns, which were legal up until I signed a bill outlawing them. So we have found more areas where there’s gaps in our laws. They need to be tighter. Twenty-one-year-olds should not be buying an AR — or, I’m sorry, an 18-year-old should not be able to buy an AR-15, and they won’t be at the end of this week. I’m telling you right now: I’m going to get that through. I’m going to get that through.
Nick Fox: How do you deal with the M.T.A. beyond just crime reduction? As you mentioned, it’s down about 40 percent. Ridership revenue is down. It’s being kept afloat by federal money now. What happens when the federal money is gone and you need to do the sort of repairs that have been delayed for years and years? And increase ridership?
That’s a challenge we have. That is a challenge. It was a lot easier before the pandemic, when ridership was up. We had a plan for congestion pricing to help bring in a steady stream of income to support it. We’re still waiting for the federal government, you know, they keep throwing more barriers in front of us right now. And I’m going to be announcing something on how we’re trying to get around that shortly.
But, yes, we have to have a steady revenue source. I’m going to have to have the state be helping the M.T.A. I mean, this is not something that we can let fail. I have to stick with the very ambitious capital plan, not taking our foot off the pedal there, because for people to come back, I have to offer them a world-class experience. New Yorkers deserve a world-class transportation experience. They don’t get that right now.
Even something like Penn Station. I mean, that’s a hellhole. It should not exist in a city like this. So I’m taking it on. We’ll find the resources. We’ll get it done. But I’m not going to use this as an excuse right now to say, “Well, times are tough. The ridership’s down. Let’s just put the M.T.A. investments over here. We’ll do it the next decade.” We’ve done that for too long. So I’m leaning into infrastructure, including the M.T.A. investments. And we have to inspire people to come back. I take the subway a lot, and I talk to people. I thank them for being out there, and you know, there’s a lot of people who just don’t think it’s the experience they deserve, and they’re absolutely right.
Nick Fox: How will you increase safety in the subway system?
Looking back, it was January, first week of Eric Adams’s term. We went down to the subways together. We talked about restoring safety, dealing with the humanitarian crisis of people feeling like that’s where they have to live, because society has not offered them a better home. The homelessness problem. So we talked about the state working with the city.
Now that was a radical announcement. Still is whenever I do this. I said, “City’s responsible for public safety on the subways, but I oversee the subway. So why aren’t we working together?” Why aren’t I bringing in support teams to help people who are homeless and to give them, you know, an alternative and not just warehousing them in, in — the shelters are just not acceptable. We need to fix the shelters but also mental health.
There’s a whole mental health side of this on the homeless side, but also the overall safety. I’ve said, if you need more people from the M.T.A., police will be helping you. I don’t want to make a militarized zone. I want people to feel comfortable there. But if we need more surveillance cameras that work, we have a lot more to do. He’s proposed, you know, metal detectors. I will entertain any idea, but it has to be one that’s actually going to work. We have to test that as well.
Nick Fox: What about police on trains?
Police on trains? I think that that gives people comfort. They see, you know, undercover — if there’s undercover people, just people embedded in, they can deal with other problems, too. Other things have happened, you know. So I’m just trying to find —
Nick Fox: Is that happening?
N.Y.P.D. — I don’t know if they’re doing undercover.
Nick Fox: Is the state providing more officers?
No, we’re — we have offered to the city that we’ll help you. Their police force is much larger than our M.T.A. force.
Nick Fox: I understand.
But I’ve offered from — I said, you tell me you need help, we’ll be down there with you.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Lauren, do you want to ask about reproductive rights?
Lauren Kelley: Yes. Hi, Governor.
Lauren Kelley: Hi. So I know you’ve already said that you’ll release $35 million in emergency funds, if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned. I was wondering if you could speak to us a little bit about the other priorities that you see for shoring up New York, whether it’s through legislation or whatnot, to prepare for the massive influx of patients that we’re likely to see, likely to see not just short term but really sort of for the long haul.
I’m already releasing that $35 million because we are already experiencing increase in people coming from other states. For example, western New York. Their Planned Parenthood is overwhelmed right now. They have people coming in from Ohio [inaudible] three hours from Buffalo is, is Cleveland. So we already have that situation. So I wanted to not wait but also bolster up their ability to expand their space, hire people, not wait till the last minute. So we’ve already undertaken.
The other thing we have to do is protect the providers in New York who do serve someone from out of state. I don’t want these crazy laws from Texas where some vigilante nut case can come to New York and, you know, file lawsuits against our providers. I’m taking action now in our legislation to protect our providers so they don’t have that chilling effect on their ability to provide these services, because we are going to be a beacon for the rest of the nation. I stood up there and said that we are a safe harbor.
And it’s part of our legacy is, you know, protecting these rights, three years before Roe v. Wade or even now. So it’s resources. It’s legally protecting. It’s also enshrining these rights in the New York State Constitution. And we talked about this for years, and everybody said: Well, why do you even have to have the Reproductive Health Act enacted into law in New York? I mean, no one will ever come and take away these rights. I’m sorry. They are, the Supreme Court has changed it. But also, we won’t go into politics, but I guess this is a political endorsement. But, you know, we have someone running for governor who’s saying that he would make sure that his health commissioner is pro-life. It would open his door to all the pro-life advocates. That’s why I have to be successful. I have to be the firewall against that.
We also have to make sure that, that people feel safe, that we protect them. And security grants. We have to have more security for the facilities. I mean, I come from the town where Dr. Barnett SlepianIn 1998, Dr. Slepian, one of three doctors who provided abortions in the Buffalo area, was killed by a sniper’s bullet in his home. The Times reported that “he had endured years of picketing and harassment, apparently moving his family into a new home in a quiet, affluent subdivision two years ago in hope of avoiding protesters.” was gunned down in his home. And the people who live down the hall from me in my condo is a doctor and a nurse who provided abortions to people before it was legal. And we don’t want to go back to that era where people are now fearful for their lives. Not just in New York. I’m worried about the rest of the country. Gosh, I do. I could protect New Yorkers, but it pains me as a woman and as a woman governor to know that people in other states will not have the same rights as women in my state.
Lauren Kelley: Just a really quick follow-up to that. The effort to enter abortion rights in the New York State Constitution — what’s the latest on that? How are things looking on that front?
Well, there’s been an ongoing debate between different legislators about how much should go into that amendment, what other rights should be protected. You know, do we include disability rights and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community? There are some who wanted it years ago to just model after the Equal Rights Amendment and just talk about gender. There are others who want to make it more expansive. So that’s the conversation that’s going now.
The governor doesn’t actually vote on a constitutional amendment. They pass it. It goes to the voters. I mean, they pass it two consecutive sessions, and then it goes to the voters. But I’ve weighed in strong, saying, “Get something done. Stop talking about this.” You know, we never dreamed we’d get this close to the edge of losing these rights. And now we are.
Jyoti Thottam: Yeah. So you’ve mentioned Buffalo a few times, understandably, in this conversation. That shooting there definitely showed the whole world that domestic extremism is a presence here in New York State. What are you doing to address that?
Two approaches. One is addressing how the radicalization occurred of an 18-year-old sitting in Conklin, N.Y., which is about as rural as it gets. And I have asked the attorney general, and we’re looking at legislation that’ll actually stand up a task force within the attorney general’s office, to be monitoring social media. Trying to identify the threats and actually making threats illegal. That’s another piece of legislation that I started looking at late last night. To do we can to put the companies on notice. I can’t legally stop you because of Section 230 in the federal law, but I’m going to find a way to make you be more responsible than you have been. I can’t legally make you respond. I’m going to make you be more responsible, and we’re going to find a way to do that. So there’s a part of it.
When there’s that hate speech, these white supremacist manifestoes. The replacement theory that’s shared and shared, from what happened in New Zealand to Christchurch all the way to what happens in Buffalo. There’s that element because you can have that hate in your heart and sit in your basement and not act on it. OK. As I said in church on Sunday, I said, “God will deal with you.” But you can’t hurt somebody. I said, “Once you also take that and have access to an AR-15 legally as an 18-year-old in the State of New York” — not high-capacity magazine, which you can drive over 10 minutes, and he lives 10 minutes from the Pennsylvania border, and add on the high-capacity magazine intended for the battlefields of Afghanistan, where I once visited — “now we’ve got a problem.” That has to stop. That’s the part we have control over.
My gun interdiction task force state police, he said: I don’t need you looking at people, you know, I’d rather you stop going after the speeders so much. Go after the guys loading up their trucks in Pennsylvania with guns and bringing them to the Bronx or to Brooklyn. That’s what’s happening.
So two approaches: how we deal with the radicalization side of it and the responsibility of social media platforms and how law enforcement needs to be identifying the threats in advance, but also the access to guns.
Jyoti Thottam: So the law enforcement piece — do you think that law enforcement in New York state is treating domestic extremism appropriately, as a priority? What are they doing to coordinate?
They are now. They are now.
Mara Gay: What is the measure of that?
Under the past administration, we had one person in the state police department monitoring social media. I’m building up a team. I’m hiring the best. I’m hiring the best. We’re standing up a task force on that. We are doing a lot. I’m taking this very seriously.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We’re just about out of time. It occurs to me through this conversation that your to-do list is quite long. There are many times that you said, “I want to do this.” How concerned are you that there’s going to be an economic recession, and what have you done to prepare the state for that?
I’ll tell you, that’s an excellent question, because as we are looking at this year, where I had my first budget, I wanted to invest money in areas that had not been invested in properly. Foundation aid, education, health care, child care, $7 billion for health careMs. Hochul’s first budget includes $7 billion in child care funding for New York families. to help struggling families. I wanted to get all that done. But there was also pressure to take every dollar of money we had and spend it this year and also have out-year expenses.
I couldn’t do that because this year, I said — back at the end of the year, I said, I don’t know how long the stock markets will be strong. I don’t know how long we’re going to have high-net-worth people contributing to our tax base. I also don’t — cannot count on Washington to give us any more money. This was before they said no to the, the CARES Act.
So all three of those turned out to be right — what I said I could not count on and build a budget around in January. When everybody wanted me to spend more, I said, “I’m going to build up our reserves.” When I took over this position, we had 4 percent of reserves in the state budget. I had done 14 municipal budgets. We always made sure we had 15 percent. That’s a commonly accepted practice: 15 percent reserves for a rainy day or a blizzard day, which is where I come from.
I have invested $5 billion extra, 2022. I’ll be putting more into 2023. I’m going to build it up to 15 percent. So at least we can be self-reliant and I don’t have to wait on if we have another pandemic and another hurricane at the same time and the federal government says we’re done with that, especially, see, if the leadership changes in the House and the Senate. That’s the world I lived in when I was in Congress a decade ago.
That’s when Superstorm Sandy hit, and the Republicans in the House and Senate would not send money to New York until we’ve had cutbacks everywhere else, even though we didn’t do that during Katrina. I’ve lived long enough to see all the bad scenarios. So that’s why I’m always prepared.
So we’ll have the ability to take care of ourselves. I also made sure that a lot of our Covid spending was this year only, that we didn’t get ourselves trapped into out year. So I don’t have out-year gaps from now to 2027. That was very important to me, to have a very progressive budget, one that was fiscally responsible, because I cannot turn back to New York and say, “Well, I have to go raise your taxes now. I’m sorry.”
We can get this right if we’re thoughtful about it and don’t succumb to a lot of pressure to do things. And I think that’s what I’m immune to. I just have this clarity of purpose as a leader in this state to know what has to be done, find a path to get it done, not be dissuaded by all the other voices that are out there. That’s what I’ve had to perfect in the last nine months as governor.
Kathleen Kingsbury: All right, I think we’re just out of time. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.