And Hochul, instead of celebrating the housing deal, declared a state of emergency.
Her incoming director of state operations, Kathryn Garcia, hadn’t officially started the job — which comes with a vast mandate to oversee most areas of the executive branch. But she stepped in to advise Hochul on the storm response, helping her understand what questions to ask of other officials and who to talk with to get the help the state needed.
Garcia, previously New York City’s sanitation commissioner and a candidate for mayor, said Hochul was mindful of the need to put the right people and processes in place that could handle extreme weather, in part so that the governor could get other things done, too.
“Natural disasters and responding to them are part of any elected job. It is about putting a structure in place, the teams in place, so that you can address those immediate impacts, but then continue to ensure that your longer-term strategic agenda is fulfilled,” Garcia said. “She knows she can’t stay in emergency mode every single second.”
In California, Newsom has been in emergency mode virtually every day he’s been governor.
Three weeks after he took office in January 2019, California’s largest utility declared bankruptcy due to the billions of dollars in costs it faced because of wildfire-related damage it had helped cause.
Since then, the state has suffered one wildfire after another, including nine of the 20 largest fires in state history. Blazes across the Pacific region this summer sent smoke all the way to the East Coast.
Newsom came to office focused on other, more typically urgent issues, like housing and jobs, but the fires have become an almost constant emergency for his administration. Similarly, he’s had to contend with rolling blackouts as heat waves spiked energy demand, and he’s flirted with issuing statewide water restrictions as the West faces one of the worst droughts in a generation.
Now, with a failed recall attempt behind him and the pandemic easing, Newsom is squarely focused on climate change, senior climate adviser Lauren Sanchez said in a recent call with reporters.
“He is feeling a real moral imperative around this issue right now,” Sanchez said. “To wax philosophically, he has four young children and has asked us to all manage this crisis like the emergency it is so that we can leave a livable planet for our children.”
Newsom has also been candid about the difficulty he’s faced governing through crisis after crisis. When asked by a reporter about what goes through his head when he’s surveying destruction, Newsom said his personal reactions are increasingly more intense.
“It’s not intellectual anymore,” he said, “it’s emotional.”