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Hochul’s Adirondack excursions give local leaders hope

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul is seen here in January 2015 at an event for the Miracle On Ice Fantasy Camp in Lake Placid. (News photo — Matt Turner)

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is set to become New York’s first female governor on Tuesday, Aug. 24 after Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigns amid sexual assault investigations, has visited the Adirondacks numerous times throughout her personal life and political career, and even suffered an injury on Whiteface Mountain a few years ago.

Hochul’s connection to the Adirondacks makes local leaders here optimistic that her leadership will be good for the region.

Hochul has been New York’s lieutenant governor since 2014. Before that, she was a congresswoman for the Buffalo area, vice president of government relations for M&T Bank and Erie County clerk.

Hochul makes annual trips around the state to visit every county. Many of those trips have brought her to the Adirondacks, where she’s taken the chance to enjoy some outdoor recreation.

Whiteface wipe-out

Hochul is a self-described “daredevil on the ski slope.”

In 2015, she broke her ribs and wrist while skiing on Whiteface Mountain for the first time. Hochul later said she was aiming for an airbag to land on, screwed up mid-air and missed the bag.

She attended a reception dinner for the state’s Adirondack Winter Challenge in Lake Placid later that day with her left arm in a cast and her right arm in a sling.

“I’m OK,” she told the people there.

She said she was treated at Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake.

“I will attest to the fine quality of the North Country medical facilities as a result of that,” she told staff at the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in a Zoom call this spring.

But her injuries did not dissuade her from returning to brave the dangers of the wilderness. The next year, she went whitewater rafting on the Indian River. She said whenever she got thrown out of the raft, she’d get right back in.

“She’s a trooper,” Tupper Lake village Mayor and Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun said. “She’ll do anything.”

High hopes for Hochul

Though many local elected officials said they only have met her in passing, what they remember from their interactions with her is that she seems enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the Adirondacks.

ROOST CEO Jim McKenna said he met Hochul for the first time when she first became lieutenant governor. She shopped for Adirondack-themed merchandise on Main Street in Lake Placid, he said.

He said since then, he’s seen her at the summer and winter Adirondack Challenge events, meeting with the leadership of the 2023 World University Games, which will be held in Lake Placid, and talking about the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant in Saranac Lake.

In March, Hochul told ROOST she’s proud of Lake Placid landing the 2023 games and said investing in winter sports venues is important for this region’s future.

Hochul is the chair of all state Regional Economic Development Councils. The state doles out hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and tax incentives through its REDC Awards each year. Hochul has been involved with DRI projects over the years.

“I would characterize her as a ‘doer,'” McKenna said. “She’s very familiar with the issues in the North Country, she knows our challenges, she knows our opportunities. … I think she’s going to hit the ground running, and I think the North Country is going to be positioned well with her in that leadership position.”

The last time Hochul was in the Adirondacks, McKenna said, was around two weeks ago, when she visited Adirondack Experience: the Museum at Blue Mountain Lake.

“After she gets sworn in, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her up this way pretty soon,” McKenna said.

Former state Sen. Betty Little, who represented the North Country in the state Legislature for nearly 25 years, said Hochul travels around the state a lot, has great people skills and listens to people often.

“I really believe that more people in New York state have had an interaction (with her) than anybody before had had with the person being governor,” Little said. “She attends all kinds of events. … If you took the population of New York state and said, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve been at an event with Kathy Hochul,’ it would be the majority. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that’s what I think.”

Little said she and Hochul worked together a lot. They were both on the state’s Women’s Suffrage Commission, which celebrated the centennial of New York allowing women to vote in 2017.

Former North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi — who spent more than 25 years in public service, a dozen of those years as town supervisor — said he didn’t work with Hochul a lot but he expects “only good things” from her as governor.

“There’s no question that she’s always been a great supporter of ours,” Politi said. “Not just Lake Placid, but Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake, the entire Adirondack region.

“I think it’s wonderful that we finally have a woman governor,” Politi added.

Harrietstown Supervisor Mike Kilroy said he knew Hochul was not close with Cuomo, but he knows while he brought a lot of money into the Tri-Lakes region, she will, too, without added baggage.

Current North Elba town Supervisor Jay Rand said he only met Hochul once at Whiteface, but she seemed “genuinely interested” in the mountain and he has a “gut feeling” she’ll do well for the Adirondacks.

“Kathy has shown herself to be a strong, intelligent, hard-working woman,” Tupper Lake town Supervisor Patti Littlefield wrote in a text. “We expect Kathy will make a positive impact for all and offer our sincere congratulations!”

Franklin County Board of Legislators Chairman Donald Dabiew said he’s met Hochul several times and that she’s always been easy to talk to. He said she’s “down to earth.”

He said he does not know much about her work as lieutenant governor, but he knows she understands all the different levels of government.

“I don’t think she was allowed to do much as lieutenant governor, but I have big expectations for her going forward,” Dabiew said. “She seems like she stood up and really took charge of things, which is refreshing.”

“She’s worked on town government, county government, state government and federal government,” Little said. “You couldn’t ask for someone that had more experience coming into a position like that.”

Challenges ahead

Little said Hochul has spent seven years preparing to be governor. As lieutenant governor, she had to be ready to lead at a moment’s notice.

Hochul announced earlier this week that she’ll run for governor in the 2022 election.

Maroun said he thinks Hochul will have two problems coming up: a potential primary from her own party and a likely gubernatorial contest from the Republican Party.

He believes Hochul is “more conservative than most” Democrats. He expects she’ll be primaried by the “extreme liberal section of the Democrat Party” in New York City.

Maroun hopes Hochul will be able to “rein in the liberals” as a moderate Democrat. He said he’d like her to address bail reform, which he believes has led to increased crime around the state, and here.

Local issues, including broadband

Speaking to ROOST in March, Hochul said she’d like to see the state invest in manufacturing in New York, so residents here are not “held captive” by overseas manufacturers, as she said they were early on in the pandemic.

She said she wants to increase the state’s investment in green energy, specifically solar energy, to create jobs and so the “North Country can shine.” Hochul said she wants the North Country to be a “model region” for green energy.

“Every day is a beautiful day in the Adirondacks,” she said.

Hochul spoke with the Adirondack Council, an Elizabethtown-based environmental advocacy group, recently. She told the environmental group she wants to maintain clean water and air in the Adirondacks.

“There’s a special place in my heart for the Adirondacks,” she said, referring to the region as, “God’s favorite place on Earth.”

She said her family has vacationed here often.

The Adirondacks were a place of “healing and recovery” during the coronavirus pandemic, Hochul said.

“When the rest of the nation was closing down parks we kept them open for New Yorkers who sought safe places for solace, exercise and relief from the pandemic,” she said.

Hochul told the Council she wants affordable broadband service for all New Yorkers.

“Broadband holds great power and has become an essential service,” she said.

Hochul said better access to child care is also needed.

“Otherwise we’re going to have another generation of women being held back,” she said.

She also mentioned that she wants to cut the ribbon when the rebuilt Whiteface Mid Station Lodge is fully open — but she’ll probably avoid jumping off the ramps this time.