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Kathy Hochul set to receive Democratic Party's nomination for governor

Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement on hate crime at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.
Don Pollard
Governor Kathy Hochul makes an announcement on hate crime at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is headed for an easy ride at her first statewide political convention since replacing Andrew Cuomo last summer. It is the first step on Hochul’s quest to get elected to the post in her own right.

Hochul will become the state Democratic Party’s official designee for the governor’s post at the convention in New York City on Thursday, the first woman to do so. In-office for just under six months, she has raised over $21 million is far ahead of primary opponents in the polls, and has shored up the support of nearly all of the state’s Democratic political establishment, including state party Chair Jay Jacobs, as well as key labor unions.

She’s managed the COVID-19 pandemic and presented a budget plan flush with cash from federal relief packages and tax increases raised by her predecessor, which so far has faced little resistance from state lawmakers.

Before last summer, Hochul was not supposed to be in this position. Andrew Cuomo was still the governor and seemingly on track for a fourth term. But in early August, Cuomo resigned in a sexual harassment scandal, although the former governor denied any wrongdoing.

Attorney General Tish James, whose report finding he sexually harassed 11 women was the catalyst for Cuomo’s exit, briefly mounted a primary challenge to Hochul. That would have likely led to a spirited race, but after just a few weeks, James decided to seek reelection as attorney general instead.

Earlier this week, though, Hochul said she is not taking anything for granted. She likened her situation to her favorite NFL sports team, which suffered a heartbreaking loss to Kansas City in a close playoff game in January.

“I’m a Buffalo Bills fan,” Hochul said. “I always have an underdog mentality.”

Hochul said she is going to focus on leading the state out of the pandemic and try to improve the lagging economy. She hopes that ultimately, the voters will be with her.

“We are going to continue speaking to New Yorkers,” the governor said. “That is the strategy. And let them know what our administration is accomplishing”.

Hochul likely will face two primary challengers. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who has received the endorsement of the Working Families Party, is running to the governor’s left.

Williams has been critical of Hochul’s housing policies and disagreed with her decision to let the state’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium expire. Williams was at the state Capitol on February 10th to promote the Good Cause bill, which tightens the criteria for landlords to evict tenants. He also says the governor is not doing enough to build needed affordable housing.

He said he was “astonished” to hear that Hochul wants to build 100,000 new affordable housing units, a figure he said is too low.

“That in no way even is a drop in the bucket,” Williams said.

Williams will attend the convention, but he expects to be denied the 25% of the vote of delegates that automatically would place him on the primary ballot.

“The democratic party always does their best to prevent folks who are speaking out against the status quo to not get those numbers,” said Williams.

But Williams, a former community organizer, said there can also be a benefit to petitioning to get on the ballot because he will be interacting with more potential voters.

Primary challengers from the progressive wing of the party took on Cuomo in 2014, 2018 and won around a third of the vote. Hochul has a better relationship with her party’s left than Cuomo did.

Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi is running to the right of Hochul. Suozzi said the governor has not done enough to pull back bail reform changes that he and other critics say have contributed to the state’s spike in violent crime. Suozzi also opposed Hochul’s proposal to bypass suburban zoning rules and allow the construction of small housing units on a homeowner’s property, known as Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, He also wants to lower the state’s highest- in- the- nation local taxes. All are issues that can appeal to voters in the New York City suburbs, who can often swing an election. Suozzi is positioning himself as moderate in the race.

“I’m a commonsense Democrat,” Suozzi said. “I don’t believe it’s about going to the far right or the far left. It’s about trying to find the answers to the problems that we face.”

Suozzi on Wednesday announced a running mate. Diana Reyna, a former New York City Council member from Brooklyn, and of Dominican heritage, will be his lieutenant governor candidate.

The convention will also include the nominations of Hochul’s running mate, Brian Benjamin for lieutenant governor, James for attorney general, and State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli for re-election, as well as the state’s senior U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

None are facing many serious challenges from within their party.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.