ALBANY – New York Governor Kathy Hochul, trying to avert a potential housing crisis, faces the first test of her vow to bring a new collegial spirit to Albany after calling lawmakers on Wednesday for an “extraordinary” special at the State Capitol has session.
Hochul, a Democrat, has been the state’s head of government for a week and succeeded Andrew Cuomo on August 23 rushing to New York City to be there when a power outage disrupted subway operations over the weekend.
However, on Wednesday she will deal with the legislature for the first time as governor on a key issue. She set the agenda for the meeting, signaling her party’s left wing that she is on board with her priorities – a key maneuver as she prepares for an almost inevitable major challenge of a progressive downstate in next year’s gubernatorial election.
In addition to serving on housing issues, the governor said she would make important appointments to the Office of Cannabis Management and Cannabis Control Board, which will oversee legalized marijuana in New York. The process has stalled under Cuomo. The session will also give her an opportunity to re-establish ties between the executive and state lawmakers who were on the verge of indicting Cuomo before stepping down after a sexual harassment scandal last month.
During his decade as governor, Cuomo has built a reputation for being a tough negotiator who pushes and maneuvers his agenda to gain recognition for his accomplishments, even when the ideas originated elsewhere. The state’s annual budget season, which runs from January to late March, has been a practical exchange of blows as Cuomo promoted his own priorities and withdrew concessions from the legislative leaders for their own.
Hochul has promised a completely different approach.
“With Andrew Cuomo it always felt like a game of winners and losers and credit and debt,” said Mike Gianaris, deputy Senate majority leader, who often clashed with Cuomo. “But if we all feel like we’re in the same boat rowing, the chances of getting a productive result are much greater.”
The agreement to address the eviction moratorium and speed up rental subsidies appears to reflect that commitment, some lawmakers said. That state was one of the slowest in the country to distribute state housing aid, and the Supreme Court’s decision to lift the Biden administration’s national eviction moratorium had created an urgent need to renew the New York ban.
Hochul appeared to be working with the leaders of both Houses of Legislature to agree on legislation before calling lawmakers back to the Capitol.
“It looks promising because I think she’s already working much more democratically with the two leaders,” said Emily Gallagher, a Brooklyn Democrat who was elected to work with in 2020. “
New York City public attorney Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who is considering running for governorship next year, said he was pleased to see the housing crisis addressed. He said Hochul had to make sure that the rental assistance was sent out faster.
“We need to put some extra money into the program and get it out quickly,” he said. “People who need this help most urgently have to overcome most of the hurdles … At the moment we are in a crisis situation and we have to get this out as quickly as possible.”
Williams said Cuomo set a low standard for working with lawmakers.
“It’s an amazingly low bar from where we come from, so I’d love to have someone clarify that,” he said.
The state eviction moratorium expired on Tuesday and was already weakened last month by a ruling by the Supreme Court that overturned part of the measure.
The court ruling created “this feeling of fear and concern in people who – through no fault of their own – lost their jobs during a pandemic. The jobs are gone, “said Hochul on Tuesday during a press conference in Buffalo. “We must act and act now. There are too many people in New York State who are stressed right now because they cannot make these payments. “
Hochul has asked people to apply for emergency aid for the rent in order to trigger an additional one-year eviction ban.
The meeting offers Hochul a political opportunity. Avoiding an eviction crisis and helping people stay in their homes is a top priority for many progressive groups and is particularly relevant in New York City, where the majority of people rent.
“Really prioritizing the needs of people who are unlikely to become political donors but are the true members of the New York State community shows that it is truly focused on the health and wellbeing of New York State residents,” said Gallagher. “That will build her a fan base that she will need for the area code.”
Hochul faces a number of challenges over the next few months that could affect her chances of her party’s nomination next June. Camille Rivera, a progressive advisor to New Deal Strategies, said housing is just an issue the left wants the governor to address.
“The clearance crisis is probably the biggest crisis right now, but other things are happening,” said Rivera. “It definitely improves their chances with the left and improves their chances with the progressive movement, but it doesn’t increase their chances of re-election.”
While Hochul promised a more transparent administration, the negotiation process in Albany remained largely the same as lawmakers are expected to vote without notice on bills that were not public on Wednesday morning. Hochul is expected to send “necessities” that allow lawmakers to skip a three-day invoice due period. Such maneuvers have long been criticized by good government groups for limiting public scrutiny of secretly negotiated measures.
Still, the steps Hochul took this week to avoid conflict with lawmakers were, for many, a sharp change from the brute force approach adopted by Cuomo and many of its predecessors, who were all men.
Rep. Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and the longest-serving lawmaker in the state’s history, has seen more than half a dozen governors come and go since the early 1970s. He recalled some controversial and unproductive special sessions convened by the late Governor Mario Cuomo, including one that lasted nearly a year and another in December that lasted after Christmas but never resulted in legislation.
“What is going on here is really radically different. Both houses are keen to work together with the governor on this issue, ”said Gottfried. “There’s a lot of good faith and open negotiation going on.”
He noted that there are geographical differences between lawmakers whose districts contain the majority of apartment renters and those who represent areas where two-family houses make up a significant portion of the housing stock. But these topics are worked out internally, said Gottfried.
“I haven’t heard any issues raised as a dispute between the legislature and the governor,” he said. “This is another good sign of improving the atmosphere and getting things done in Albany.”