Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will be able to pick her own successor when she takes over for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who Tuesday announced his plans to resign in two weeks.
If Hochul doesn’t appoint someone right away, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will take on the additional role of acting lieutenant governor until the position is filled. During that period, Stewart-Cousins would remain the leader of the Senate.
What now looks like a routine matter – filling a vacant seat for lieutenant governor – became a source of controversy in 2008, the last time a New York governor resigned.
In that case, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal in March 2008 and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. David Paterson.
Since the New York Constitution didn’t specify the procedure for filling the lieutenant governor’s vacancy, the job went unfilled for more than a year until July 2009.
Paterson appointed Richard Ravitch, a longtime Democratic lawyer, to serve as lieutenant governor, traditionally a ceremonial post in New York.
But the position took on added importance that year because the state Senate was split 31-31. The lieutenant governor technically presides over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes.
Paterson’s decision was challenged in court by then-Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who claimed the governor didn’t have the authority to appoint a lieutenant governor.
Andrew Cuomo, New York’s Democratic attorney general at the time, agreed with Skelos and said it would be unconstitutional for Paterson to appoint a lieutenant governor.
But the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ultimately ruled in favor of Paterson, said Leslie Silva, a partner at Tully Rinckey, an Albany law firm.
“Overall, the Court of Appeals decided that absent a clear law on the way to select a state officer, the governor has the authority to appoint one under the public officers law,” Silva said.
State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, said the 2009 ruling was significant because it made clear how a lieutenant governor should be replaced when a governor resigns.
“The new governor has the power and ability to appoint someone to be lieutenant governor without confirmation,” Gianaris said in an interview.
The new lieutenant governor will stay in office only for the remainder of Hochul’s term, which expires at the end of next year.
New York voters will choose the next governor and lieutenant governor in the November 2022 election.