opinion | What New York Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to prove

“I have to succeed,” Ms. Hochul told me. “There is no choice.”

Ms. Hochul’s rise may seem like an accident, a fluke of political turmoil and timing. But that’s not entirely true. In fact, she is quite the opposite. No coincidence of political culture, but a product of it – and all the little things that make being a politician different.

Kathleen Courtney Hochul was raised in Hamburg, NY, near Buffalo, the second of six children of working-class Irish Catholic parents. Her parents were civil rights activists and protesters against the war in Vietnam, who taught their children that “you don’t just think about yourself,” says her sister, Sheila Heinze. Ms. Hochul’s father worked nights in a steel mill while attending college during the day. Her mother founded a domestic violence shelter, which she named after her own mother, who left an abusive marriage, and ran a flower shop in town, employing “displaced housewives.”

When she wasn’t at school, Ms. Hochul — repeatedly described by colleagues as “normal” and “very down-to-earth” — could be found babysitting, volunteering at the local Democratic Headquarters, or working at a pizza shop. At Syracuse University, where she served on the student council, she was known as a consensus builder. “Some of the guys she worked with were quite charismatic speakers and knew how to hold a space,” said Jim Naughton, her co-vice president. “She didn’t have that gift, but she compensated for it extremely successfully with a kind of reserved seriousness that drew people to her side.”

She met her 38-year-old husband, William Hochul Jr., while doing an internship at the New York State Assembly. Then an aspiring attorney — he later became U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York under President Barack Obama — Mr. Hochul moved to Washington to be with her as she graduated from Catholic University law school and then on Capitol Hill worked . When she became pregnant with her children – William and Caitlin, now in their thirties – she and Mr Hochul decided to move back to Hamburg, where for the next few years she transported the children and helped her mother in the flower shop.

Ms. Hochul said she never saw herself as an elected official; She always intended to be behind the scenes. But when she heard about an election for her city council — and a 22-year-old man, fresh out of college and still living with his parents, campaigning for it — she changed her mind. “Kathy was already an attorney from the District of Columbia at that time, who had worked for Congress, who had worked for the Senate, who, frankly, had worked at a really sophisticated law firm before she even went to the Hill,” said Mr. Hochul recalled, “and one of the things that went through her mind was, ‘Gosh, do I even qualify to run for city council?’ Finally, when she saw this young man running, it was, ‘Hey, I might as well do it.’”

There were two places open and both won. Ms. Hochul served for more than a decade before being appointed Erie County Secretary by Mr. Spitzer (yes, that Eliot Spitzer). It was the first, but by no means the last, time that Ms. Hochul’s career was shaped by troubled men.

In 2011, she ran for Congress in a special election in a heavily Republican district previously represented by Christopher Lee, who resigned over shirtless selfies he sent to a woman he met on Craigslist. She won that race but soon lost the seat by 1.4 percentage points to a man who would end up in jail for securities fraud. (“I’m over it!” she joked in a recent speech.) opinion | What New York Gov. Kathy Hochul needs to prove

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