New York Gov. Kathy Hochul celebrates after declaring victory at...

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul celebrates after declaring victory at her campaign headquarters election night Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Manhattan. Credit: Craig Ruttle

For Gov. Kathy Hochul, who survived an abrupt succession last year and a close election this year, it may have looked like the hard part was over.

Not so.

Now the 64-year-old ex-Congress member and former lieutenant governor faces the deeper test of prodding the whole state forward for four years.

Success will depend on improving discipline and creativity on a dozen fronts and on responding to what voters last month said they want. In an overwhelmingly Democratic state, the people’s verdict sounded more like a conditional “yes” than a mandate.

Like her hometown Buffalo Bills, for which she’s committed the state to a new stadium, Hochul’s still-nascent executive team will need to step up on both defense and offense.

First, defense: Public discontent over disorder, touted during the campaign by GOP challenger Lee Zeldin, remains palpable and real. In New York City, the visual triggers are numerous and the concern is rational.

Turnstile jumpers go utterly unchallenged every day; onlooking fare payers feel like chumps. Fortunately, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has begun sending security agents to some subway stations.

MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

Ranting or even menacing individuals these days aren’t expected to be locked up or out of sight for long. Mayor Eric Adams’ new move in response — to hospitalize people cops and medics deem too mentally ill to care for themselves — will need state support if it is to work. Hochul and the Democratic majorities of the legislature have to push even harder to expand mental-health resources and ensure they are used.

The correct posture is important. As a headline stated in the postelection edition of the Harlem-based Amsterdam News: “Lee Zeldin’s narrow loss reflects city’s public safety concerns.”

Defense of the streets is one challenge. To gain ground on offense, Hochul’s administration must get and keep its own institutional machinery in working order for all other priorities. That demands the skillful mastery of seemingly arcane detail and process.

This is especially true of the $220 billion-plus budget.

Voters on Long Island, amid our regional red wave, reacted to the cost of living and inflation. While Albany doesn’t control prices and currency, it does steer spending, and must do so without sacrificing planned middle-class tax reductions.

Last spring, Hochul insisted on a substantial cash reserve. Encore, please. Resisting bloat at this moment, when expensive programs come in for hard inspection, is paramount. The urge to splurge must be curbed.

If there was an overwhelming bipartisan mandate on Election Day, it was for the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air, Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. But to carry out the people’s will, the administration must apply discipline in choosing and executing the right projects.

Hochul needs to attract and install the best staffers — quickly. With budget director Robert Mujica moving on, someone else now must ride herd on state agencies.

VISION FOR FUTURE NEEDED

Next month in her State of the State address, the no-longer-accidental governor must reveal a vision of New York’s near future. One portion of that means following through on efforts underway. For example, she must keep a planned surge in health care workforce expansion on track.

Then there’s the need to grapple with a projected MTA deficit of as much as $3 billion, which its newly proposed fare hikes across the board would only partially cover. Add to that the complex issue of more housing.

These are painstaking tasks. Good execution is especially key to meet legal challenges. Hochul needs to avoid signing partisan-palliating legislation that judges will find wanting — as she did with this year’s ill-fated redistricting bill.

PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS

Looking ahead, the devil still dwells in the details of last summer’s quickly-enacted gun permitting law. Provisions for vetting pistol-license applicants, setting up gun-safety zones, and training requirements are important. Something had to replace the century-old permit process the Supreme Court chose to destroy. But the state clearly overreached on some background check procedures.

Now the measure is slowed in court by gun owners asserting their First Amendment rights are being violated. Only a careful parsing of legislation and case law by Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James, and the Assembly and Senate can keep needed gun regulation from rotting in legal limbo.

The administration also must wrestle with commercial objections in court to the new system of cannabis licensing. One emerging problem is unlicensed pot stores, with some selling a tainted product. The state must rapidly respond to the resulting consumer confusion and monitor driving-under-the-influence incidents from the outset.

Even without court challenges, the new ethics commission may need tweaks if it doesn’t prove to work better than the one it replaced. And the onset of public campaign financing will take smart execution.

Planning for future crises sometimes means analyzing past ones. The state legislature and executive still need to review the handling of health emergencies for lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor therefore must find her way to resonant messaging, stronger agency management, recruitment of top-shelf appointees, and forceful negotiation with the Senate and Assembly.

For Hochul and her state, that’s the only sensible way forward.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.