New York Governor Kathy Hochul is Irish pride
New York governor Kathy Courtney Hochul is the most successful Irish American politician in history, now that she has succeeded disgraced Andrew Cuomo.
Plus, of course, she’s the first female governor of New York since the state was incorporated in 1777. Think about it.
Hochul also has a story that seems barely believable, starting his life in very real poverty. But she overcame it all and always stayed close to the Irish roots and identity that shaped her.
Life didn’t start rich and privileged in 1958 for Buffalo-born Kathleen Courtney. As New York Daily News reporter Tim Balk wrote, “When Kathy Courtney Hochul was born in the summer of 1958, her parents Jack and Pat Courtney had only recently moved from a rooted 250 square foot mobile home. in a trailer park in the shade of the Bethlehem Steel factory. The trailer park was named Shamrock Park in recognition of the huge Irish colony of South Buffalo.
A close neighbor and another famous child from South Buffalo was the late Meet the Press host Tim Russert, who had known Hochul from childhood and befriended her again when she came to Washington as member of the House of Representatives. In interviews, Hochul often mentions Russert and says he and she made a lot of the lessons and core values they learned growing up in South Buffalo, one of the great working-class Irish neighborhoods in America. .
The Irish in South Buffalo are tough. When the Erie Canal was built from 1817 from Albany to Buffalo, they invaded Buffalo from Irish towns on the east coast. They were paid $ 1.87 a day and somehow survived harsh winters, terrible camp conditions, and waves of illnesses such as cholera.
Then came the Irish Famine and South Buffalo became home to over 10,000 Irish fleeing the worst disaster in Europe in centuries.
One of the strangest incidents in Irish American history occurred in Buffalo when thousands of Irish people gathered after the Civil War in 1866 to attack Canada, a British possession, seeking to conquer it and to trade Ireland for Canada with the British. It was a daring plan to say the least. Most of the Irish gathered came from the city’s first Irish quarter. The plan to capture Canada failed, but as in other cities, the Irish soon saw politics as the means to power.
In 1841 the Buffalo Irish had elected their first mayor, Isaac Harrington, and they built their first church, St. Patrick’s, in Ellicott and Broadway.
Generations later, Hochul’s grandparents, both from the same County Kerry town, met in Chicago and settled in Buffalo where they quickly became key figures in the Irish community, helping to create the Buffalo Irish Center, the center of all activity. She remembers the pictures of JFK and Pope John vividly on their wall.
Money was tight as she grew older and the family was aware that life in the trailer park could happen to them again. But despite living a frugal life, Hochul has proven to be very ambitious and focused, his friends and family say. She looked after the neighbors’ children, looked after her younger brothers, worked in a local pizzeria and took extra lessons at school.
She also worked hard outside of school. Hochul’s sister remembers coming home around midnight after the pizza place shift and opening her school books. “I remember being in bed and looking over it, and she was coming home from the pizza place,” said her sister Sheila, 57. “And she would have her light on, and she would study.”
As the Daily News noted, “Money was tight for the Courtney clan. They shopped at the second-hand clothing store, and their brick house at 202 Long Avenue was cramped, with six children, two parents, and various pets.
Hochul has retained his modest sense of self from his working-class origins and has rare political acumen, his fellow politicians say. Tom Quatroche, 51, a board member with her at Hamburg City Council from 1994 to 2010, described her as “incredibly nice” and said that wherever she goes she will take Hamburg with her.
“She never forgets where she’s from, that’s for sure,” said Randy Hoak, who worked with Hochul in the city of Hamburg.
Hochul will bring change to Albany. The greatest hope is that she can put an end to the hostility and dysfunction that marked the Cuomo years. Considering how she was smiling through her own adversity, it just might happen. A unique piece of history was made this week and Irish America can be very proud of one of its own.
* This column first appeared in the August 25 edition of Irish Voice, sister publication of IrishCentral.