After a long history of political activism and with a background in charity work, Kathleen C. 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.”1 Hochul also touted her political independence which, she said, “shows people of all parties will support me, because they trust my judgment and they know I’m a fighter.”2
Kathleen C. Hochul was born Kathleen (Kathy) Courtney on August 27, 1958, in Buffalo, New York, one of six children. Her father, Jack Courtney, was president of a technology company, and her mother, Patricia Courtney, was a business owner. Hochul 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 often cared for and hosted underprivileged children and instilled in Hochul the values of public service from a young age. While attending Hamburg High School, Hochul began volunteering for local politicians during summer vacations. She graduated in 1976 and attended Syracuse University. After earning a BA in 1980, she attended Catholic University in Washington, DC, earning a law degree in 1983. A year later, she married William J. Hochul, with whom she had two children: William and Caitlin.4
Following law school, Hochul worked briefly as an attorney in Washington, DC, before serving as legal counsel for a pair of prominent New York Democrats, Representative John Joseph LaFalce and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She returned to western New York in 1991 and became a lobbyist for small business groups 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.5
In 1994 Hochul 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, she was appointed deputy Erie county clerk.7 In 1998 Hochul launched a campaign against toll booths on the Niagara Thruway, which the state eventually 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
In 2011 Hochul leaped onto the national stage in a high-profile special election to replace Republican Representative Christopher John Lee, after he resigned from the U.S. House on February 9. Hochul won the Democratic nomination on March 19 and campaigned in diners across the region promising to fight a Republican plan to largely privatize Medicare.9 Given the district’s 40-year history of electing Republicans, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took a hands-off approach to the special election. Her competitors, Republican Jane Corwin and Tea Party-backed Independent Jack Davis, tried to tie Hochul to national Democrats in Washington, but Hochul distanced herself from her party and cast the race as a referendum on the Republican Medicare overhaul, which both of her opponents supported.10 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 during the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Hochul served on the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. When it came to her legislative agenda, she focused on policies for the middle class. She frequently spoke on the House Floor about 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 in 2012. She broke from her party again in a vote to hold United States Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt over the Justice Department’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” gun trafficking program, which attempted to trace firearms sales to Mexican drug cartels.12
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 was enacted on January 14, 2013. “As a country, we have a moral obligation to do so much more to eradicate this untenable situation,” Hochul said about her bill. “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 that her bill would “forge another important partnership in our efforts to serve homeless veterans.”13
In 2012 Hochul faced re-election in a redrawn district against businessman and former Erie County executive Chris Collins. Collins defeated Hochul by a margin of 51 to 49 percent.14 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.” After Hochul left Congress, a major bank hired her as a vice president of government relations.15
Hochul was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York in 2014 and took office on January 1, 2015, alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo.
1“Thank You,” official campaign website of Kathy Hochul, 20 March 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130320175109/http://www.kathyhochul.com/.
2“The Candidates in Their Own Words,” 21 May 2011, Tonawanda News (North Tonawanda, NY): n.p.
3“Local History,” official campaign website for Kathy Hochul, 20 June 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20110620013236/http://www.kathyhochul.com/khwordpress/meetkathy/local-history/.
4“Kathleen C. Hochul, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–Present,” https://bioguide.congress.gov.
5Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, “Two Vie for Lieutenant Governor Line; Five Things to Know About Kathy Hochul,” 9 September 2018, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: A32; Robert Harding, “Cuomo Selects Former Rep. Kathy Hochul, Syracuse University Grad, To Be His Running Mate,” 22 May 2014, The Citizen Blogs (Auburn, NY): n.p.
6Raymond 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.
7“Hochul Named Deputy County Clerk,” 13 May 2003, Buffalo News: B3.
8Glenn Gramigna, “County Clerk Kathy Hochul,” 25 January 2007, PoliticsNY.net: n.p.
9Jerry Zremski and Robert J. McCarthy, “Cast Turns House Race into Compelling Drama,” 5 June 2011, Buffalo News: A1.
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 (NY): n.p.
12Joyce Miles, “Hochul: I’m Here to Help,” 16 January 2012, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal: n.p.; No author, “Holder Held In Contempt of Congress; Democrats Decry Move as a Political Stunt,” 29 June 2012, Buffalo News: A1.
13Clothe a Homeless Hero Act, PL 112-271, 126 Stat. 2446 (2013); Congressional Record, House, 112th Cong., 2nd sess. (27 November 2012): 6441.
14Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
15“Thank You,” official campaign website for Kathy Hochul.