Gov. Kathy Hochul arrives at the Tilles Center for the...

Gov. Kathy Hochul arrives at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at Long Island University-C.W. Post on Nov. 29. She will be sworn in to a four-year term on Sunday. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul won the November election, but heads into her inauguration still in search of her own stamp on state government, analysts say.

She’ll get a chance to change that in a series of potentially pivotal speeches next month, starting with Sunday’s inaugural address.

Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, has ridden the wave of a tumultuous 16 months: ascending from lieutenant governor to chief executive when Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in 2021 amid sexual harassment allegations; doling out large amounts of federal and state pandemic aid in April; winning a Democratic primary in June, and surviving a closer-than-expected general election over Republican Lee Zeldin in November.

But she had stumbles in a bumpy budget process. She admitted her vetting process was subpar when her first pick for lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin of Manhattan, was indicted on corruption charges (most of which were later dropped). And now, her nominee for chief judge of New York is in danger of being rejected by a Democratic-dominated State Senate, which could be a historic setback.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul will be sworn-in at a 2 p.m. Sunday ceremony in Albany, along with the rest of the reelected Democratic statewide ticket.
  • Political anaylsts say she is still searching to put her own stamp on state government.
  • After her inaugural address, Hochul will deliver the annual “State of the State” address on Jan. 10 and in late January, she must propose a state budget.

Over that time, Hochul sought to be the anti-Cuomo and the anti-Zeldin, analysts said, but has yet to become strongly identifiable to New Yorkers. That will be one of her thematic tasks as she begins a full four-year term.

“All pols need a brand … and I didn’t see any evidence of a brand with her. She has not done it,” said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist.

 "You get past the historic point of her being the first female governor and I'm not really sure what her signature issues are," Lisa Parshall, a Daemen University political scientist said.

Hochul has sought to project hard work and competence, but there have been key missteps, Pashall said, adding: "So she is still struggling to find a signature, a profile that is uniquely her own."

Carving out that profile will be part of the governor’s to-do list, another analyst said.

“She’s no longer the antidote to Cuomo. She has to be pro-Hochul,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic strategist.

Hochul will be sworn-in at a 2 p.m. Sunday ceremony, along with the rest of the reelected Democratic statewide ticket: Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

It’s just the first of several January milestones. Nine days later, Hochul will deliver the governor’s annual “State of the State” address, outlining her themes for the year.

In late January, she must propose a state budget for the fiscal year. It’s where she’ll convert her priorities into dollars — with economic development, criminal justice, housing and cost of living, and public transit expected to be among the highlights.

A governor in her first year of a new term has to “find an issue and ride it,” Sheinkopf said.

“A governor has to survive the legislative session. Come in with a budget that’s not late and has enough goodies in there for enough parts of the state. And not get into public battles. And be very canny behind the scenes when providing jobs and services for particular parts of the state and particularly for your allies.”

Why? Because “the political issue is to provide less fodder for complaints behind the scenes because that will undo a governor,” Sheinkopf said.

Bruce Gyory, a former adviser to two Democratic governors, Elliot Spitzer and David Paterson, noted that Hochul’s win means this will be the fifth consecutive Democratic gubernatorial term in New York.

That presents her with different challenges than her predecessors: updating and refreshing the Democratic message.

“People can get tired of one party when they’ve been in there a long time. And the good ones renew and refresh,” Gyory said, citing Nelson Rockefeller’s third beginning in 1967, among others.

“So the political question is: Can Hochul use the three functional addresses in her immediate future — the inaugural, the State of the State and the budget — to begin the process of renewing and refreshing the Democratic coalition?” he said.

Part of the task will be trying to bridge the gap between moderate and progressive Democrats who control all the levers of power in Albany. Criminal justice will just be one of the issues that test the more moderate governor and more liberal house leaders. Even before the 2023 legislative session begins, Hochul is facing a fight with progressives over Hector LaSalle, her nominee to be New York’s new chief judge, whom they consider too conservative on labor, abortion and criminal justice issues.

How the governor handles those stresses will play out over the next six months of the session. But the first step comes Sunday.

“What she needs is the bumper sticker: Five words that explains who Kathy Hochul is and what she wants to do,” Muzzio said. “The inauguration could set it up. It doesn’t have to be long in detail, but it has to have the message, the brand, whatever you want to call it.”

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