Kathleen Courtney Hochul is an American lawyer and politician serving as the 57th governor of New York since August 2021. A member of the Democratic Party, Hochul is the first female governor of New York.
After serving on the Hamburg Town Board and as Deputy Erie County Clerk, Hochul was appointed Erie County Clerk in 2007. She was elected to a full term as Erie County Clerk in 2007 and reelected in 2010. In May 2011, Hochul won a four-candidate special election for New York's 26th congressional district to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of then-United States Representative Chris Lee, becoming the first Democrat to represent the district in 40 years. She served as a United States representative from 2011 to 2013. Hochul was defeated for reelection in 2012 by Chris Collins after the district's boundaries and demographics were changed in the decennial reapportionment process. Hochul later worked as a government relations executive for the Buffalo-based M&T Bank.
In the 2014 New York gubernatorial election, Andrew Cuomo selected Hochul as his running mate; after they won the election, Hochul was inaugurated as lieutenant governor. Cuomo and Hochul were reelected in 2018. Hochul took office as governor of New York on August 24, 2021, after Cuomo resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Early life and education
Hochul was born Kathleen Courtney in Buffalo, New York, the second of the six children of John P. "Jack" Courtney, then a college student and clerical worker, and Patricia Ann "Pat" (Rochford) Courtney, a homemaker. Hochul's family struggled financially during her early years and for a time lived in a trailer near a steel plant. By the time Hochul was in college, however, her father was working for the information technology company he later headed. Her family is Irish Catholic, with roots in Kerry.
Hochul became politically active during her college years at Syracuse University, leading a boycott of the student bookstore over high prices and an unsuccessful effort to name the university stadium after alumnus running back, NFL draft pick, and cancer victim Ernie Davis. She successfully lobbied the university to divest from apartheid South Africa, and in spring 1979, the student newspaper The Daily Orange awarded her an "A", citing the campus changes as evidence for the grade. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University in 1980 and a Juris Doctor from the Catholic University Columbus School of Law in 1984.
Early political career
After graduating from law school, Hochul began working for a Washington, D.C. law firm, but she found the work unsatisfying. She then worked as legal counsel and legislative assistant to U.S. Representative John LaFalce and U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan, and for the New York State Assembly, before seeking elected office.
Hochul became involved in local issues as a supporter of small businesses facing competition from Walmart stores and, in the process, caught the attention of local Democratic leaders. On January 3, 1994, the Hamburg Town Board voted to appoint her to the vacant seat on the board caused by Patrick H. Hoak's resignation to become town supervisor. She was elected to a full term in November 1994, on the Democratic and Conservative lines, and was re-elected in 1998, 2002, and 2006. She resigned on April 10, 2007, and was succeeded by former state assemblymember Richard A. Smith. While on the board, she led efforts to remove toll booths on parts of the New York State Thruway system.
In May 2003, Erie County Clerk David Swarts appointed Hochul as his deputy. Governor Eliot Spitzer named Swarts to his administration in January 2007 and appointed Hochul to succeed Swarts as county clerk in April 2007. In an intervention that raised her statewide profile, she opposed Spitzer's proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver's license without producing a social security card, and said that if the proposal went into effect she would seek to have any such applicants arrested. She was elected later in 2007 to fill the remainder of Swarts's term. She ran for reelection on four ballot lines: Democratic, Conservative, Independence and Working Families Party, defeating Republican Clifton Bergfeld in November 2010 with 80 percent of the vote.
Following Hochul's departure as county clerk, a backlog of mail was discovered by newly elected County Clerk Chris Jacobs, who later said that $792,571 in checks were found in the backlogged mail. As county clerk, Hochul had been in the process of implementing a new system for handling real estate documents when she left after being elected to Congress. Jacobs said that $9,000 were spent in overtime to deposit checks and file unopened documents that had accumulated in the interim period after Hochul's departure, while the office was adjusting to the new system.