Kathy Hochul made history on Sunday, and not for the first time. She was already the first woman to serve as New York governor, having taken office 16 months ago following the fall of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

But Hochul’s inauguration Sunday at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany was different: For the first time in New York’s existence, a woman held her hand on a Bible to take the oath of office for a full gubernatorial term of her own, as elected by the people of the state.

Hochul made it clear the milestone was meaningful to her. As she has for major events in the past, she wore all white, a nod to the women’s suffrage movement. She took the stage to a backdrop that acknowledged the historical event — “Making history, making a difference,” it said — as she delivered a celebratory, 25-minute speech to a crowd of about 2,000 in the state’s capital city.

“I think about two and a half centuries ago, when George Clinton took the oath of office — the one that my husband just administered me on the Bible that was the family Bible of the Roosevelt family, ” Hochul said. “But when Clinton was sworn in as governor, I can tell you right now: not a soul in that place would have ever dreamed that a woman would take that oath in this same state.”

Hochul was one of four statewide officials to be sworn in on Sunday, along with Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

I didn’t come here to make history, I came to make a difference, and to pursue the worthy causes.
Gov. Kathy Hochul

The governor won her full term in November, but it was far from an electoral mandate: She defeated Republican Lee Zeldin by less than 6 percentage points, a slim margin in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one.

Now, her inauguration comes as she faces what could be the biggest turning point in her still-brief gubernatorial tenure.

Addressing NY’s challenges

Hochul has pledged to put forward a plan to create 800,000 housing units over the next decade in New York, which she will unveil during her State of the State address Jan. 10. It will be closely and equally scrutinized by the powerful real-estate lobby — which provided key support to her election campaign — and the progressive wing of her party, which will again be pushing for greater tenant protections in New York City and across the state.

The governor also faces a New York City public-transit system that is in need of an influx of revenue, having not fully recovered from the COVID pandemic and its lasting effects on commuters and in-office work.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, shortly before being sworn in as the New York's first elected female governor, sits alongside her husband, William.

And she is in the midst of an ongoing battle with labor unions and the Democrat-led Legislature over her nomination of Hector LaSalle for chief judge of the Court of Appeals, a key role that not only would put him in charge of New York’s top court but also the state’s entire judicial branch. It requires Senate confirmation.

At least 12 Democratic senators have come out against LaSalle’s nomination, angered Hochul didn’t pick a defense attorney or civil rights attorney for the role. Some leaders in the Latino community, meanwhile, have called on the Senate to give LaSalle a chance; he would be the first Latino to hold the role of chief judge.

Time to govern

Former Gov. David Paterson, who was on hand for the inaugural ceremony, said Hochul now has the benefit of something she didn’t have when she first took office: time. Since she took office toward the end of Cuomo’s term, Hochul was forced to run for election almost immediately.

Now, Hochul won’t face re-election until 2026. Paterson said it will allow her to focus more on governing in the near term.

“I think a couple of times she stumbled a little and staggered a little bit,” Paterson said. “But I think now there's a balance. She knows what part of her time is governing. She knows what part of her time is still trying to make herself popular with New York residents, and I think it will slow the process down — not the process of getting things done, but just the day-to-day consequences. She won’t have to run from here to there.”

Hochul’s second inauguration was a departure from her first, a more-muted affair held with just several dozen people in attendance at a time when state government was still reeling from the sexual harassment and COVID-19 scandals that brought Cuomo down.

Sunday’s event struck a far more celebratory tone, beginning with a video of girls from across the state speaking about what Hochul’s election meant to them. Later, a packed convention hall enjoyed a performance from the music ministry of Albany’s Metropolitan New Testament Baptist Church, which performed a song titled, “Thank You, Lord.”

“Behind me, it says ‘Making history,’” James said as she congratulated Hochul from the stage. “It should say ‘herstory.’”

Hochul’s remarks

In her speech, Hochul only hinted at her agenda for the coming year, vowing to maintain a focus on issues like crime and affordability — kitchen-table issues that Zeldin, her opponent, used against her to some effect on the campaign trail.

She will have two opportunities in the coming weeks to expand on her policy plans— first when she delivers her State of the State address, and later in January, when she will unveil her budget proposal.

“I didn’t come here to make history, I came to make a difference, and to pursue the worthy causes,” she said Sunday. “And as your Governor, I will keep fighting for you every single day.”