ALBANY, N.Y. — Kathy Hochul became the first woman to be sworn in to a full term as governor of New York on Sunday, a landmark moment that she said she would seize to lead a state confronting fears over crime and a crisis of affordability.
In her first inaugural address, Ms. Hochul briefly acknowledged other women in New York who had made history before her, name-checking Harriet Tubman and Hillary Clinton, before turning her attention to the “worthy pursuits” and fights she said she would take on in the next four years.
“I didn’t come here to make history,” Ms. Hochul said shortly after being sworn in at a convention center in Albany. “I came here to make a difference.”
Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat from the Buffalo area, took the oath of office two months after emerging victorious in the closest governor’s race that New York has seen in decades. In one of the nation’s most liberal states, Ms. Hochul beat her Republican challenger, Representative Lee Zeldin, by only six percentage points, with the race largely defined by agitation from voters around spikes in crime and the rising cost of living, issues with which Mr. Zeldin hammered the governor.
On Sunday, Ms. Hochul indicated that she would focus her tenure on addressing many of the same concerns — including safety and affordability — that fueled the wave of discontent in November against Democrats, who control all three levers of power in Albany.
At the same time, Ms. Hochul, 64, used her speech to lean into social issues favored by progressives, who took credit for salvaging the governor’s flagging campaign in its closing weeks. And she emphasized the need to safeguard the right to abortion, an issue that helped galvanize many Democrats after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Such sentiments were lauded by a swarm of well-wishers and Albany power brokers who packed the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in downtown Albany, adjacent to the state’s ornate Capitol Building.
The event, the first inaugural planned in Albany since 2011, when Andrew M. Cuomo first became governor, had a festive atmosphere, with attendees snapping 360-degree photographs and selfies in front of the New York State seal and a I ❤️ N.Y. poster.
Before the ceremony, an overmatched string quartet played against a babble of conversation among New York’s movers and shakers, only a smattering of whom wore masks, a sign of the state’s steady, if slow, recovery from Covid-19.
Indeed, Ms. Hochul made reference to “the lingering effects” of the pandemic, suggesting it was partly to blame for educational and economic disruptions in the state, including “mental health challenges and increases in crime.”
The governor, who is expected to unveil a plan later this year to build 800,000 units of new housing over the next decade, said that high housing and energy costs were “making life just too damn hard for New Yorkers.” She pledged to address the state’s years of population loss by creating jobs and in-state economic opportunities.
“New Yorkers are just struggling to pay rent, food and gas to get to their jobs,” she said. “They’re hurting.”
Without offering specifics, she broadly vowed to crack down on hate crimes and tackle gun violence so that “New Yorkers can walk our streets, ride our subways and our kids can go to school, free from fear.”
Ms. Hochul is expected to unveil her policy vision in greater detail during her State of the State address later this month, as well as in her proposal for the state’s budget, which typically serves as a vehicle to pass a host of nonfiscal policy priorities in Albany.
But passing her agenda will mean working in tandem with Democrats in the State Legislature who hold veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers and have influential blocs of members who are to the left of Ms. Hochul on an array of policy issues.
It is unclear, for example, if Ms. Hochul will seek additional changes to the state’s contentious bail laws this year, as Mayor Eric Adams of New York City has called for — a move that would create another clash with Democratic lawmakers. Mr. Adams attended the ceremony on Sunday, as did Senator Chuck Schumer, who administered the oath of office for the state attorney general, Letitia James, who was also sworn in, as was the state comptroller, Thomas B. DiNapoli. All of them are Democrats.
Ms. Hochul will begin the legislative year already at odds with left-leaning Democrats in the State Senate over her nominee for the state’s chief judge. At least a dozen state senators, including Michael Gianaris, the deputy majority leader in the upper chamber, have announced in recent days that they would vote against confirming her choice, Hector LaSalle.
The intense opposition has placed Ms. Hochul’s nominee in serious jeopardy, raising the possibility that Ms. Hochul, who has so far stood by her decision, might have to withdraw the nomination and suffer an embarrassing political defeat at the onset of her first full term.
Ms. Hochul’s first inauguration capped her whirlwind ascent to the state’s highest office: In August 2021, she unexpectedly replaced Mr. Cuomo after he resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal, thrusting Ms. Hochul, then his mostly obscure lieutenant governor, into the limelight.
A former congresswoman, Ms. Hochul made history as the first female governor in the state and first governor from western New York in over a century, and she quickly moved to build her stature in Albany.
She secured a suite of policy priorities in her 500 days in office, including the passage of a $220 billion state budget, as well as changes to the state’s bail and gun laws, and moved to develop a more cordial relationship with fellow Democrats who control the State Legislature.
Casting herself as an above-the-fray executive and a calming presence after Mr. Cuomo’s combative leadership and sudden downfall, Ms. Hochul immediately announced her bid for a full term and quickly established herself as the de facto leader of the state Democratic Party. She raised record-smashing amounts of campaign contributions and went on to win resoundingly in a three-way primary last summer.
Armed with an overwhelming fund-raising edge in a state where Democratic voters vastly outnumber Republicans, Ms. Hochul appeared poised to easily prevail in the general election. But Mr. Zeldin tapped into fears over crime and mounted a vigorous challenge, fueled by support from independent and suburban voters, and even a sizable chunk of Democrats in New York City, who appeared to be upset over public safety.
Ms. Hochul nonetheless emerged victorious and became the first woman elected governor after scrambling to turn out Democratic voters, and focusing on public safety in the final days of the campaign.
The historic nature of her victory, and her Buffalo-area background, was never far from the forefront on Sunday, with the governor joking at one point that she made “really good chicken wings.”
A brief video early in the ceremony showed girls and young women praising her for breaking a centuries-old glass ceiling. And like other speakers on Sunday, Ms. Hochul offered sympathy to the families of more than three dozen people who died in a blizzard in Buffalo last month, as well as for victims of a racist massacre there in May.
Ms. Hochul sought to use her inauguration to begin mending divides that emerged during the election, pleading for unity by appealing to a common sense of purpose among working-class New Yorkers, from nurses and police officers to teachers and hotel workers, saying “this day doesn’t belong to me.”
“As I approach the next four years with the energy and sense of purpose and optimism, I know I am not alone, for I am joined in that arena with others who will fight the good fights and the worthy pursuits that Roosevelt spoke of,” Ms. Hochul said, referring to Theodore Roosevelt, a former New York governor — and a Republican — whom she often quotes. “Let’s use these coming years to truly make a difference for each other, and make this state stronger than it’s ever been.”