For Kathy Hochul, today is like homecoming. It’s been years since she worked at the Capitol as an aide, but after an unlikely victory landed her a seat that’s been held for decades by the Republicans, she’s back.
And she’s ready.
The newest New York Representative won’t let being in the House minority bring her down.
“I don’t see any problem,” she said. “I’m willing to come in as a very strong and independent Democrat and work with both sides.”
She won’t worry about the Republicans who say she won only because it was a three-way special election.
“I think the data shows that even in a traditional race, I would have been successful,” said Hochul, who beat GOP nominee Jane Corwin 47 percent to 43 percent last week.
Indeed, even this afternoon’s swearing-in ceremony isn’t at the top of her worry list, she told Roll Call in a phone interview as she navigated New York’s roads on her last day as a Representative-elect.
“After coming off a very intense campaign covering seven counties and two media markets with a lot of national scrutiny, I feel like tomorrow is something I will be able to handle,” she said.
Her concerns are more job-oriented. She wants to focus on the diverse needs of her constituents, from the farmers and veterans to the families who live in the suburbs. She rode the wave of discontent over the GOP overhaul on Medicare and promises she will fight for senior citizens. She also said she would try to help small businesses — as county clerk, she was the first point of contact in Erie County for anyone who wanted to start one. She’d like to roll back tax breaks for people earning more than $500,000.
It’s been quite a path for a woman who originally came to Washington in the 1980s to study law at the Catholic University of America. After landing a job at a law firm and deciding it wasn’t for her, Hochul headed to the Hill. She worked for Rep. John LaFalce and Sen. Daniel Moynihan. That’s where she learned the ropes and got her first glimpse of the workings of the House Small Business and Judiciary panels.
“It gave me a good sense of the operations,” she said.
She first entered public office after moving back to New York, when she won a seat on the Hamburg town board. Later, she was appointed the deputy clerk for Erie County and eventually county clerk.
Though she contemplated a Congressional run in 2008, she ultimately decided against it, opting to continue her duties as clerk. When the seat for the 26th opened up after the resignation of Rep. Chris Lee (R), she said she felt it was her duty to run and to hopefully serve.
Now she’s got that chance. Despite the possibility of redistricting eliminating the 26th all together, she still says she plans to have a voice.
“I’d rather step up and put myself out there to do the job, certainly for the next 18 months and for the future,” she said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.