What Kathy Hochul's historic role means for other women in politics

NEW YORK (WABC) -- With Kathy Hochul officially taking the reins as New York's governor, a historic number of women are currently leading U.S. states - a push towards equality and representation that could continue into next year's midterm elections.

There are now nine women serving as governor in the U.S. That ties a record that was set in 2004 and matched in 2007 and 2019, but it's still well shy of gender proportionality.

Taking over on short notice for a scandal-plagued predecessor in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Hochul began her tenure Tuesday with more than enough challenges for a new administration. She also began with an historic opportunity: Hochul is the first woman to hold one of the most prominent governorships in the U.S.

Even before she spoke a single word on this historic day, Hochul wore white -- a nod to the suffrage movement.

One of her first promises as governor is creating a fully diverse cabinet.

"I have a lot of expectations of her as a woman, having been a woman in a position of leading a legislative body, you know the power you have to influence," said former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito also pointed out the irony in Tuesday's groundbreaking transition.

"Kathy Hochul was selected or approached by Governor Cuomo as a way of a tool, of trying to appease a large section of women and how ironic, really sweet it is that, that woman is now empowered to set herself apart from this," Mark-Viverito said.



Basil Smikle the director of the public policy program at Hunter College believes Hochul now has a responsibility to make sure the pipeline behind her remains diverse, but says her first order of business will be to clean house.

"It puts a lot of men on notice to say, you've got to start centering women more in your policy making, in your offices, in your agencies," Smikle said.

Hochul pledged "a dramatic change in culture" that will include mandatory ethics courses and improved sexual harassment training for state employees.

"I want people to believe in their government again," Hochul said Tuesday while outlining her top goal.

A century after women gained the right to vote, 19 states still have never been led by a woman. That includes some of the most populous states, such as California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Even if it succeeds, California's recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom next month doesn't appear likely to elevate a woman to the state's top job.

Women currently hold 18% of governors' offices - significantly less than this year's new records of 27% of U.S. congressional seats and 31% of state legislative seats. In addition, Vice President Kamala Harris also became the first woman in that role this year.

Hochul already has announced she will seek a full four-year term in 2022.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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New York's first female governor says she has one big priority: "I want people to believe in their government again."



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