ALBANY, NY – She has been New York Governor for more than four significant months. But Kathy Hochul will really claim the title next week when she becomes the first woman in New York history to deliver a state affair speech.
The final quarter of 2021 was a cleanup for Hochul, 63, who took over Albany when Andrew Cuomo resigned last August. In the months since then, she has had to grapple with the consequences of her predecessor’s abrupt departure and the now toxic legacy – while at the same time dealing with the very issue that has made Cuomo a national figure, the Covid-19 pandemic.
But on Jan. 5, Hochul will set her own legislative priorities, trying to put her stamp on the office she inherited as she revives her campaign to win a term of her own in 2022.
The annual speech remains one of the highlights of the New York political calendar, but it’s no longer as grand as it used to be. Document papers no longer print the text in full, and few people outside the state government will even notice. But for Hochul, the speech will be a chance to define her tenure and personality after lingering in Cuomo’s shadow for so long. And it comes just weeks after their main antagonist in next June’s Democratic primary, Attorney General Tish James, was eliminated, making Hochul a clear favorite for the nomination.
“For Kathy Hochul, the speech is more important than usual because it is the first time she truly speaks to the state – and lawmakers will listen carefully,” said Peter Quinn, a novelist and essayist who wrote speeches for the former New York Governments Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.
Her predecessor defied tradition by delivering his state-of-state speeches outside the Capitol, often at a nearby convention center and once on a six-part tour of the state. These speeches were usually more about performance and spectacle than about governance, with Cuomo assuming the role of master of ceremonies.
Hochul, on the other hand, will give her speech under the stained glass light of the vaulted assembly chamber, unless the Covid-19 case numbers cause a change of plan at the last minute. Your planned choice of venue could be as important as the words it will speak, said Bob Bellafiore, an Albany-based communications consultant who was former press secretary and speechwriter for Governor George Pataki. Addressing lawmakers in their home area has the prosaic but important effect of releasing control of the program to the leaders of the Senate and Congregation.
“Firstly, it sends a message to the legislature that you respect your role in this process,” said Bellafiore. “And second, in her case, it says, ‘I’m not Cuomo.’ To be honest, that’s probably 50 percent of their message. ”
It won’t be a one-woman show, Hochul told reporters during a virtual briefing on December 16. Everything from the reduced invitation list to the policy proposals it will drive will be developed in coordination with lawmakers and executives, it said.
“I’ve heard from countless members of the legislature who remind me that it is definitely not a state within the state – it’s called a message to the legislature,” said Hochul. “So it is right to bring it back to the Legislative House.”
Technically, Hochul does not have to deliver a speech (just as the US President is not required to deliver a personal state of the nation address). In the 19th and 20th centuries, governors tended to send written notices to the legislature in order to fulfill their constitutional duty to keep lawmakers informed. Presidents, beginning with Thomas Jefferson, did the same until Woodrow Wilson personally delivered his message to Congress in 1913 in 1923. Governors have done so ever since.
Hochul branded herself as a serious and open speaker, but has so far not captured the audience’s imagination with flowery rhetoric, nor has she looked for additional minutes on stage for a self-talk. Her virtual inaugural speech was 11 minutes long.
This penchant for brevity could be in competition with an agenda that she has already promised will stretch through every corner of the state government.
She wants to “overtake” New York’s 64-campus public university system and the state’s ailing ethics committee – the Joint Public Ethics Committee –upside down. “ In September she promised state business leaders new regional business development funds and vocational training programs that connect workers with their industry. In November she said Manhattan executives that her State of the State speech would include her vision for electric vehicle infrastructure and a plan to make New York the “epicenter of offshore wind systems.”
She said earlier this month that one of her “top priorities” will be to increase the training and recruitment of healthcare workers that have been crippled by Covid-19 pressure and a vaccination mandate. It also promised a “bold and ambitious plan” to get more New Yorkers to vote by postal vote.
A good state-of-the-state address takes these political initiatives and weaves them into a single main storyline, Quinn said. But the first task was always to sort through the jargon-filled suggestions that speechwriters received from the Political Winks.
“They’re sending you these documents and they’re pretty awful,” he said. “We [speechwriters] We used to call ourselves a sewage treatment plant. They bring all of this into English and organize it so that it is consistent. It is a political document to set the guard rails for the state. “
Hochul is working on the speech with a team, but according to her office she is the “chief architect” of the address. The deeper details of Hochul’s agenda, where differences of opinion become more likely, will likely only come to light when she releases her budget proposal a few weeks later.
“The state of the state is a vision document; the budget is the battle plan, ”said Bellafiore.
Every state of the state needs a bit of momentum to gather political energy, but the conditions to actually achieve the goals that Hochul sets are unusually on their side this year.
For the first time in years, the main storyline won’t include the caveat that New York will be short of cash, noted Quinn.
The federal stimulus money temporarily closed some existing gaps in education and health care, and in October an update on the state’s financial plan said New York is likely to raise $ 3.8 billion more than officials forecast earlier this year.
University said the state has enough money balance its budget by 2025 and finally begin to increase the reserves for the case of future crises to a more logical proportion of 15 percent of government spending.
A massive infrastructure investment, signed by President Joe Biden last month, will accelerate road and rail projects across the state – visible achievements voters can attribute to elected officials at both the state and federal levels.
An additional major political victory in the legislature could go a long way in Hochul’s re-election campaign, but political priorities are nothing without legislative approval.
Hochul’s success could thus depend on their perceived competence and collegiality in negotiating a state budget, a historically controversial process between the executive and legislative branches that Cuomo dominated to his political advantage.
While voters do not see the specifics of legislative interaction, elected officials, funders, and corporate groups do. An assessment of Hochul’s ability to deliver on her promises will begin in January. First impressions count, said Quinn. That could start with your first State Issue speech, which will attract the most attention and interest.
“While if she’s been governor for eight years, seven years from now, they’ll be sleeping bags in the [Assembly] Chamber, ”he said.