A day before Kathy Hochul becomes the first female governor of New York State, she announced that her top two aides will be women, too.
Karen Persichilli Keogh, who is known in political circles by her initials “KPK,” will become secretary to the governor, the highest-ranking appointed position in the state. She will succeed Melissa DeRosa, who was the first woman to hold the position. In a tweet, Ms. DeRosa described Ms. Keogh as a “superstar.”
Ms. Keogh’s appointment, along with the selection of Elizabeth Fine as Ms. Hochul’s counsel, means that a trio of women will be at the helm of the executive branch roiled by allegations of sexual harassment by the outgoing governor.
Both Ms. Keogh and Ms. Fine are longtime political hands whose experience in New York City and Washington could help Ms. Hochul navigate the state’s opaque political waters.
In a statement, Ms. Hochul said Ms. Keogh and Ms. Fine would help her “turn the corner on the pandemic and serve the best interests of New York, whether it’s defeating Covid, getting more people vaccinated, or strengthening our economy.”
The inner cabinet appointments will be key to Ms. Hochul as she takes office at a pivotal time in state history. New York is still grappling with a pandemic and its economic repercussions, even as it has had to contend with the scandal-plagued tenure of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose last day in office is Monday.
Ms. Hochul has said she will take up to 45 days to determine which cabinet officials and top staff she will want to keep from the Cuomo administration. That means that, for now, close Cuomo allies — such as Howard Zucker, the health commissioner, and Robert Mujica, the governor’s powerful budget director — will remain in place when Ms. Hochul takes office.
In Ms. Keogh, Ms. Hochul will have a trusted aide with whom she has been friends for years, according to one of Ms. Hochul’s aides.
Most recently, Ms. Keogh worked as head of global philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase & Co. She is married to Mike Keogh, who is a partner at the Albany lobbying firm Bolton-St. John’s. State records indicate he has represented clients like the Dart Container Corporation, a manufacturer of foam cups, and Bard College.
The incoming Hochul administration, which is also facing concerns about Ms. Hochul’s husband’s work for New York hospitality and gambling concern Delaware North, said it would take appropriate measures to avoid conflicts of interest.
“Recusals will be put in place by midnight to ensure that any New York State business relating to the secretary’s spouse will be delegated in order to prevent any appearance of conflicts of interest,” a spokesman for Ms. Hochul said.
Ms. Fine, who will serve as Ms. Hochul’s chief legal adviser, came highly recommended by several allies, the aide said.
One of those allies was likely Howard Zemsky, the former president and chief executive of Empire State Development, where Ms. Fine now works as general counsel and an executive vice president.
In a text message, Mr. Zemsky, who, like Ms. Hochul, is from the Buffalo area, described Ms. Fine as “admired and respected by everyone at ESD and frankly by everyone who knows her and somehow most people do!”
He declined to say if he had recommended Ms. Fine for the position. But he is known to have a good relationship with Ms. Hochul; when she was sworn in to Congress in 2011, Mr. Zemsky and his wife, Leslie, traveled to Washington for the event, according to former Representative John J. LaFalce, Ms. Hochul’s political mentor. “They’re very close to her,” Mr. LaFalce said.
Ms. Fine has served as counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno and President Bill Clinton, counsel to the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign, and general counsel for the New York City Council under Speaker Christine Quinn.
Ms. Quinn remembers her fondly, describing her as “somebody with the most clear, specific, ethical compass I have ever seen,” and also as someone who does not take herself too seriously.
“She’s this high-powered, general counsel woman, had worked on the Clinton campaign, big lawyer, and then she would have this pen that had, like, a troll on the top and fuzzy, fuzzy hair that her daughter had given her,” Ms. Quinn said.
Ms. Fine would also bring members of her staff to her meetings with Ms. Quinn, including Alvin Bragg, who this year won the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney.
Ms. Keogh’s political career is rooted in New York City, too.
Sal Albanese, a former councilman, first met Ms. Keogh when she was working on his 1992 congressional campaign. He went on to hire her as his legislative assistant at City Hall.
“We lost a congressional race in ‘92, but my wife Lorraine during the campaign said, ‘You’ve got to hire this young woman if you have room on your staff, because she really is a hard, hard worker,’” Mr. Albanese said. “She doesn’t stop.”
Ms. Keogh, who lives in Brooklyn, would go on to work as New York State director for former Senator Hillary Clinton; advise former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2009 re-election campaign; and help Senator Kirsten Gillibrand as she transitioned from the House to the Senate.
“She has a steady hand, knows every corner of the state, and cares deeply about New Yorkers,” Mrs. Clinton said in a statement.
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