ALBANY — With confidence and steely determination, Gov. Kathy Hochul vowed to fight for New Yorkers in her inaugural address Tuesday.
Hochul spoke of the courage of her family members, including her immigrant grandparents who fled poverty in Ireland, and the early suffragettes she admires to fight for equality.
“I share those influences so you can understand the depth of my commitment to you,” she said, noting her annual visit to the state’s 62 counties. “And to those New Yorkers who have yet to meet me. I say this: You may not know me. But I know you.”
While Hochul focused much of her roughly virtual 12-minute address on the immediate challenge of the pandemic, she also set priorities for ending Albany’s culture of secrecy, bullying and intimidation.
Hochul promised her administration will mark a new era of transparency to focus on open, ethical government operations.
Executive counsel will develop an expedited process to quickly satisfy all Freedom of Information Law requests and post the completed requests online for the public. Hochul will also sign an executive order to require every state employee to undergo ethics training.
“To me, it’s very simple,” she said. “I will direct state entities to review their compliance with state transparency laws, and provide a public report on their findings. To achieve all of this, and so much more, we must and will work together.”
The COVID-19 vaccine will be required for all teachers, faculty and staff in New York school districts with a weekly test-out option, and more statewide vaccine mandates are imminent, Hochul said. Curbing the spread of the COVID delta variant is Hochul’s first priority.
The vaccine will be required for all teachers and school personnel with an option to take a weekly COVID-19 swab test.
“At least for now,” Hochul added. “To accomplish this in New York, we need partnerships with all levels of government, and I am working now on getting this done.”
Hochul vowed to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates for all New Yorkers and combat vaccine myths and hesitancy and make sure booster shots, or the recently approved third dose of the vaccine, are available quickly.
“With the [U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s] full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect new vaccine requirements,” Hochul said, adding, “More on that soon.”
Hochul, 62, was sworn in as the state’s 57th and first female governor in the state Capitol at 12:01 a.m. and in a ceremony with family and legislative leaders at 10 a.m. Tuesday, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo left office in disgrace at midnight.
The governor directed the state Department of Health to institute universal masking for any person who enters a school.
The state will launch a Back to School COVID testing program to make testing for students and staff widely available and convenient.
Hochul has previously voiced support for mask mandates for students, teachers and staff, and consulted with elected officials, teachers, school board members and superintendents to develop the statewide policies for several months.
“None of us want a rerun of last year’s horrors of COVID-19, therefore we will take proactive steps to prevent that from happening,” the governor said. “Priority No. 1: We get children back to school and protect the environment so they can learn.”
Hochul will announce concise COVID-19 policies for all schools statewide later this week.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta compared Gov. Hochul’s decisive actions to a breath of fresh air in Albany.
“We support universal mask wearing as part of a layered mitigation strategy that also includes robust COVID testing, contract tracing, proper ventilation and other strategies recommended by public health experts,” Pallotta said Tuesday. “We also support the governor’s move to require regular COVID testing for school staff who are not yet vaccinated. It’s critical that educators continue to have a voice in the implementation of vaccine requirements and other COVID policies at the local level.”
The new governor will provide regular coronavirus updates and announcements, she said.
The state must quickly process thousands of applications and send payments to New Yorkers from pandemic relief programs included in the 2021-22 budget passed in April, including $2.7 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for tenants and small landlords and $2.1 billion in the Excluded Workers Fund for undocumented immigrants.
“I am not at all satisfied with the pace that this COVID relief is getting out the door,” Hochul said. “I want the money out — and I want it out now. No more excuses and delays.”
Hochul, together with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, on Tuesday to partner with legislators, cities and counties to plan a new targeted campaign to reach more New Yorkers about the available rent relief and Excluded Workers Fund.
Additional staff will be hired to process applications and identify and remove remaining barriers, Hochul said.
Qualified New Yorkers who apply to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program will be protected from eviction for one year.
The time to move the state forward is now, said Hochul, who recalled one of her favorite inspiring speeches by former President Teddy Roosevelt about a man in the arena marred by dust, sweat and blood contrasting with the weary souls on the sidelines.
“Today, for the first time in New York history, a woman will enter that arena as governor,” Hochul said. “As I undertake the weighty responsibilities before me, know that I have the confidence, courage and the ability to lead New Yorkers forward and to make New York’s women proud.
“You will find me to be direct, straight-talking and decisive. I will not be deterred, and I’m willing to be bloodied and marred in the pursuit of doing what’s right for the people of this great state.”