In her first formal address as New York's new leader, Gov. Kathy Hochul outlined plans for a school mask mandate, and said that her administration would be marked by a dramatic change in the culture of state government, with an overhaul of transparency rules and training in ethics and harassment.
Hochul said she had directed the state health department to require universal masking in schools, and that she was laying the groundwork for a statewide requirement that all school staff either get vaccinated or face weekly testing.
"I've been consulting with parents, elected officials, teachers, school boards and superintendents," Hochul said. "As a result, we need to require vaccinations for all school personnel with an option to test out weekly, at least for now. To accomplish this for New York, we need partnerships with all levels of government, and I'm working now on getting this done."
She also said she had directed “overhaul of state government policies on sexual harassment and ethics,” such as requiring that the training to be done in person, invoking the scandal-laden tenure of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in all but name. Cuomo resigned the governorship earlier this month after a state attorney general report substantiated allegations of sexual harassment from 11 women.
“The new era of transparency will be a hallmark of my administration,” Hochul said. “But to me, it's very simple. I’ll focus on open, ethical governing that New Yorkers will trust.”
In her speech, Hochul spoke of her family and women political heroes, saying they had taught her empathy, resistance and perseverance.
She balanced references to both rural New York and the needs of its urban cores, speaking of farmers and hollowed-out town centers, as well as promising expedited release of federal emergency rental assistance funds. Cuomo received criticism in recent months for releasing only a fraction of $2.6 billion earmarked for rent relief.
"I am not at all satisfied with the pace of this Covid relief getting out the door. I want the money out now. I want it out with no more excuses or delays,” said Hochul.
But her top priority, Hochul said, is beating back the pandemic.
"Your priorities are my priorities,” she said. “And right now that means fighting the delta variant."
Her announcement of a likely vaccinate-or-test rule comes a day after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced all city education department employees would be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hochul suggested that further vaccine rules would soon be announced
"With the FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine yesterday, New Yorkers can expect more vaccine requirements, and more on that soon," she said.
Hochul also announced additional changes to transparency rules, saying that every state agency would be required to create and publicly release a report on their compliance with ethics rules, mandating ethics training for all state employees and directing state lawyers to create a way to fill Freedom of Information Law requests “as fast as possible.”
Hochul ended her speech with a reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s famous “Man in the Arena” speech, likening public service to fighting inside a boxing ring for the benefit of unscathed onlookers.
“Today, for the first time in New York history, a woman will enter that arena as governor,” she said. “I will not be deterred, and I'm willing to be bloody and marred in the pursuit of doing what's right for the people of this great state.”
This story includes reporting from Zack Fink.
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