“Those of you who have watched the PowerPoints before for the budget presentation know that they’re a little bit long, but with me, they’re not — I keep them very abbreviated and try to focus on what I think you’d be interested in,” she told the North Country Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism on Thursday.
It was a subtle way of contrasting her approach with that of an unnamed individual who likes to use PowerPoints to talk about the state budget. (That would be Cuomo.) And that was the closest she came to mentioning the governor’s name in a 20-minute speech ostensibly focused on promoting his budget.
Hochul has maintained a busy schedule in recent weeks, although her office hasn’t been commenting on anything involving the snowballing allegations enveloping the governor. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Hochul’s only recent statement on the subject was a brief expression of her confidence that state Attorney General Tish James’ investigation of the harassment allegations would be thorough.
That’s not entirely surprising: Even if the allegations against the governor disgusted her, any condemnations could be perceived as a form of palace intrigue, given that she is first in the line of succession.
But several long-time Hochul observers said they view the lieutenant governor as far too eloquent to have made such a rhetorical shift by accident. Whether the shift is out of frustration with the accusations or simply an attempt to develop some distance from a governor who might be a liability for her own ambitions, it’s extremely apparent, especially when comparing her language to speeches she has given in past years.
“A lot of states don’t have the leadership like we have with Gov. Cuomo,” she said while promoting the governor’s “Women’s Justice Agenda” in 2019. “I know the governor’s up for this fight. … And I thank every one of you for joining with us and Gov. Cuomo and his entire administration as we lead not just the state forward, but we lead America forward to protect the rights of women in this nation.”
When talking about Cuomo’s budget proposals and accomplishments in recent days, Hochul has often simply used pronouns to refer to the administration she’s part of.
“We think that in this year’s budget, adult-use cannabis can help us in a number of ways,” she said at the North Country event.
Hochul explicitly praised Cuomo just once during the six events, and that was spoken in the past tense: “The governor led through this,” she said about the pandemic while speaking in Cortland on Tuesday.
Most Hochul events do not survive online, so it’s difficult to peg exactly when she made this rhetorical shift. But there’s some evidence it began even before the sexual harassment allegations started to emerge.
From the beginning of the year through Feb. 9, she sent out 42 tweets directly mentioning Cuomo — a rate of just about one a day. On Feb. 11, the New York Post reported some details of a meeting with legislators about nursing homes deaths, leading to the first serious calls for Cuomo’s impeachment.
Hochul’s account has tweeted more than 150 times since then. The number of these tweets mentioning Cuomo? Zero.
Tea leaf readers might find evidence that the distancing has begun to accelerate. Reporters have been emailed Hochul’s non-political schedule 1,572 times since she took office in January 2015. The first 1,571 of these were sent by the governor’s press office, and since February 2015, they’ve all featured Cuomo’s name above hers for no apparent reason other than to highlight his preeminence in the executive branch.
The 1,572nd came on Friday, announcing her plans to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Hochul was the only elected official named in the release, which was sent directly by her office.
At that Friday event, she had some people to thank for leading efforts to get everybody vaccinated: Catholic Health CEO Mark Sullivan, Buffalo NAACP president Mark Blue, nurse Mary Miller and President Joe Biden. That was it, before she wrapped up by saying she was “going to take [her] shot.”