After a long history of political activism and background in charity work, Kathy Hochul seized a rare opportunity to launch a short but busy congressional career. Arriving in Congress after winning a special election, she spent much of her single term calling for bipartisanship and for “bettering the lives of middle class families, farmers, small business owners, seniors, and veterans” who sent her to Washington.1 Hochul also claimed an independent streak which “shows people of all parties will support me, because they trust my judgment and they know I'm a fighter,” she said in 2011.2
Kathleen “Kathy” Courtney was born on August 27, 1958, in Buffalo, Erie County, New York. She was one of six children born to Jack Courtney, president of a technology company, and Patricia Courtney, a business-owner. Kathy grew up in Erie County near the Bethlehem Steel Plant where her father worked while completing his education.3 Her politically and socially conscious parents instilled in her the values of public service from a young age—often caring for and hosting underprivileged children. While attending Hamburg High School, she began volunteering for local politicians during summer vacations. She graduated in 1976 and attended Syracuse University. She remained politically active, leading a successful boycott of her college bookstore accused of price gouging.4After earning a B.A. in 1980, she attended Catholic University in Washington, D.C., earning a J.D. in 1983.5 In 1984, she married William J. Hochul, with whom she had two children, William and Caitlin.
Following graduation, Hochul worked briefly as an attorney in Washington, D.C., before serving as legal counsel for a pair of prominent New York Democrats, Representative John J. LaFalce and Senator Patrick Moynihan. She returned to western New York in 1991, where small business groups hired her to lobby against big-box corporations in the region. She also worked in charity, founding the Kathleen Mary House with her mother and aunt in 2006 to support victims of domestic violence.
In 1994, she won election as a Democrat to one of four at-large seats on the Hamburg Town Board, where she served for 12 years.6 In May, 2003, the Erie County clerk appointed her as his first deputy county clerk.7 In 1998, Hochul launched a campaign to remove toll booths on the Niagara Thruway, which the state took down in 2007. In early 2007, she was appointed by Governor Eliot Spitzer to fill the unexpired term of Erie County clerk David J. Swarts; she won election to a full term that fall, becoming the highest elected female official in the county.8 As county clerk, Hochul continued to garner attention by challenging several Democrat-proposed policies in the state legislature.
In 2011, Hochul leaped onto the national stage in a high profile special election to replace Republican Representative Christopher Lee in the northwestern Buffalo region, after he resigned from the U.S. House on February 9. Hochul accepted the Democratic nomination on March 19, 2011, stating her mission was to “cut waste, hold down taxes, and help Western New York businesses create jobs for working families.”9 Both Republican Jane Corwin and Tea Party-backed Independent Jack Davis labeled Hochul as the choice of establishment Democrats in Washington. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took a hands-off approach to the special election given the district’s 40-year history of Republican dominance.10 Hochul distanced herself from her party and cast the race as a referendum on Republican proposals to change Medicare, which both of her opponents supported. This tactic, combined with the in-fighting among local Republicans, led Hochul to an upset victory in the May 24, 2011, special election. She won a plurality of 48 percent of the vote.11
Elected to the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Hochul served on the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. Her legislative agenda paralleled her campaign’s focus on the middle class. She frequently spoke on the House Floor in favor of helping small businesses, protecting Medicare, and balancing the budget. Hochul was the only New York Democrat to vote in favor of the Balanced Budget Amendment. She broke from her party again in a vote to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over the Justice Department’s handling of the controversial “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking program.
Hochul introduced the Clothe a Homeless Hero Act on August 2, 2012, directing airports to deliver unclaimed clothing to homeless veterans. The bill passed by voice vote in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate after the November elections and became Public Law 112-271 on January 14, 2013. Speaking on the floor about the bill, she said, “As a country, we have a moral obligation to do so much more to eradicate this untenable situation. And I know that in a bipartisan way this is one step toward that effort.” Republican Representative Gus Bilirakis of Florida echoed her sentiments and declared her bill would “forge another important partnership in our efforts to serve homeless veterans.”12
In 2012, Hochul faced a re-election challenge in a redrawn district from businessman and former Erie County executive Chris Collins. Collins defeated Hochul by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.13 After Hochul left Congress, She was hired her as a vice president of government relations for a major bank. In her farewell letter to constituents, Hochul wrote, “Together we made a difference. That’s the true purpose and joy of public service . . . the betterment of people’s lives.”14
Hochul was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York in 2014, and took office on January 1, 2015, alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo.
1“Thank You,” Kathy Hochul for Congress, n.d., http://www.kathyhochul.com/ (accessed 30 January 2013).
2“The Candidates in Their Own Words,” 21 May 2011, Tonawanda News, http://www.tonawanda-news.com/local/x898209263/The-candidates-in-their-own-words/ (accessed 5 February 2013).
3“Local History,” Kathy Hochul for Congress, n.d., http://www.kathyhochul.com/meetkathy/local-history/ (accessed 25 May 2011).
4Raymond Hernandez, “Her Inheritance: An Eagerness to Serve,” 29 May 2011, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.c/2011/05/30/nyregion/kathy-hochul-inherited-an-eagerness-to-serve.html (accessed 12 February 2013).
5Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-Present, “Kathleen C. Hochul,” http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H001062 (accessed 15 February 2013).
6Hernandez, “Her Inheritance: An Eagerness to Serve.”
7“Hochul Named Deputy County Clerk,” 13 May 2003, Buffalo News: B3.
8Glenn Gramigna, “County Clerk Kathy Hochul,” 25 January 2007, PoliticsNY.net, http://www.politicsny.net/ (accessed 20 February 2013).
9“Kathy Hochul Accepts Nomination, Ready to Help Businesses Create Jobs,” Kathy Hochul press release, March 19, 2011, on Kathy Hochul campaign web site, http://www.kathyhochul.com/kathy-hochul-accepts-nomination-ready-to-help-businesses-create-jobs-2/ (accessed 14 March 2013).
10Steve Peoples, “DCCC Is Playing Limited Role in N.Y. Special,” 14 April 2011, Roll Call: n.p.
11Joyce Miles, “Hochul Wins 26th: Democrat Wins Traditionally Republican District,” 25 May 2011, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, http://lockportjournal.com/local/x194732532/Hochul-wins-26th (accessed 25 May 2011).
12Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (27 November 2012): 6441.
13“2012 Election Results,” New York State Board of Elections, 6 February 2013, http://www.elections.ny.gov/2012ElectionResults.html (accessed 14 February 2013).
14“Thank You,” Kathy Hochul for Congress.