Sunday, 7 Aug 2022

6 Issues Kathy Hochul Will Face as New York Governor

In less than two weeks, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will become the next governor of New York, amid a period of exceptional tumult and uncertainty.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who held office for more than a decade and kept tight control over the state’s Democratic Party, is resigning after a report by New York’s attorney general found he had sexually harassed nearly a dozen women.

At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic is surging anew, raising thorny questions about public health, school safety and how best to manage New York’s precarious path toward economic recovery.

On Thursday, Ms. Hochul confirmed that she would seek a full term as governor in November 2022, so she will be tackling the state’s pressing issues while running a campaign in what could be a hotly contested election.

Bob Megna, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, an Albany-based think tank, said that he believed Ms. Hochul was well poised to tackle New York’s many challenges.

“She’s not new to the political environment, she’s not new to the policy environment and she has experience at the federal and local level, which a lot of people don’t have,” he said.

Here are some of the top issues facing Ms. Hochul.

A surge in coronavirus cases.

Ms. Hochul must contend with a troubling uptick in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant. On Wednesday, the seven-day average of new infections in New York State was 3,715, up from a low point of 307 on June 26, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations rose to 1,559 from 823 over the same period.

The trend means that Ms. Hochul may have to make difficult choices on how to respond, including whether to pursue new state guidance to encourage more mask-wearing or implement vaccine mandates in places like nursing homes.

At a news conference on Wednesday, she said she would use the next two weeks to consult with experts and federal health authorities. She said one focus would be to increase the pace of vaccinations — less than 60 percent of New Yorkers have been fully vaccinated.

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the chairman of the Assembly’s health committee, said that under Mr. Cuomo, a “large part” of health policy during the pandemic was decided by a small group of aides. He said he thought that would change in a Hochul administration.

“You may very well have different voices play a key role and that might have significant public policy consequences,” he said.

Ms. Hochul will also have to decide how to work with New York City on a pandemic response. Mr. Cuomo had often been at odds with city officials: he blocked Mayor Bill de Blasio’s idea for a shelter in place order last March, for example.

Thousands of tenants facing possible eviction.

Ms. Hochul takes office amid significant upheaval over state measures meant to keep tenants from being evicted during the pandemic.

Less than three weeks before a state moratorium on evictions was set to expire, the United States Supreme Court struck down the provision on Thursday, clearing the way for thousands of eviction cases to move forward.

Tenants may still be shielded from eviction under other measures. A new federal eviction moratorium is in place until Oct. 3, but that measure has not prevented some evictions in other parts of the country. Another state law also keeps some tenants from being evicted because they couldn’t pay rent during the pandemic, but does not prevent suits from being filed, or tenants from being evicted for other reasons.

The court’s ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by several small landlords and a landlord group, stoked fears that thousands of New Yorkers could lose their homes.

While many landlord groups praised the ruling for allowing them to challenge cases where a tenant may have been improperly not paying rent and abusing the moratorium, the ruling also prompted calls from housing advocates for a new moratorium, which would have to be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

After the ruling, Ms. Hochul said in a statement that she would work with state lawmakers to “quickly address the Supreme Court’s decision and strengthen the eviction moratorium legislation.”

“No New Yorker who has been financially hit or displaced by the pandemic should be forced out of their home,” she said.

The ruling also places more scrutiny on New York’s rent relief program, which Ms. Hochul will now inherit. The program has gotten off to a sluggish start, leaving many renters and landlords increasingly anxious and frustrated.

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As of Tuesday, the state had distributed about $100 million in aid to roughly 7,000 households, totaling less than 4 percent of the $2.7 billion in available funds for the program. Renters and landlords continue to report errors and glitches in the application system.

Michael P. Hein, the commissioner of the state agency that runs the program, testified at an Assembly hearing this week that he had not spoken to Mr. Cuomo about the program, though he had kept in touch with others in the administration.

A subway system in crisis.

Ms. Hochul will assume control of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates a network of subways, buses and two commuter trains, as it is facing a severe crisis.

The M.T.A. has lost about half of its riders since the pandemic started. The subways are carrying about 2.5 million riders each weekday, down from more than 5.5 million in 2019. On the commuter railroads — the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North — ridership is down about 60 percent. A fare increase scheduled for this fall was postponed in hopes of luring back more riders.

The drop in passengers and an exodus of workers led the M.T.A. to make service cuts, some of which it has not yet restored. A gusher of emergency federal aid — $14.5 billion in all — has bolstered the authority against a huge operating deficit. But it could face a budget gap as soon as 2025, according to the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog.

Ms. Hochul also will have to identify a source of funding for one of the biggest public-works projects in the nation: the Gateway program to build a second rail tunnel under the Hudson River connecting to Pennsylvania Station. The tunnel alone is projected to cost $11.6 billion, half of which is supposed to come from New York and New Jersey.

A likely mask mandate in schools.

Though Mr. Cuomo frequently contradicted Mr. de Blasio on decisions related to schools during the pandemic, the governor was conspicuously absent from the actual work of determining how to open classrooms last summer and fall.

Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.

    • Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
    • Vaccine rules . . . and businesses. Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
    • College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
    • Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.  
    • Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
    • New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
    • At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.

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