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One year after her appointment as governor, Hochul is running strong to be elected to the job

Governor Hochul Announces Major Increase in 'Red Flag' Law earlier this month.
Don Pollard
Governor Hochul Announces Major Increase in 'Red Flag' Law earlier this month.

Wednesday marks a year since Kathy Hochul became New York’s governor. Hochul, who was the state’s little-known lieutenant governor, is now running to win a full term and become the first female governor elected to the post.

Hochul took over as governor two weeks after former Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was resigning over multiple scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment.

“I want people to believe in their government again,” Hochul said on August 24, 2021. “Our strength comes from the faith and the confidence of the people who put us in these offices, and I take that very seriously.”

The former Erie County clerk and congresswoman from a conservative-leaning western New York district had been lieutenant governor since 2015. She was little-known and not part of Cuomo’s inner circle, but she traveled the state for the former governor and made her own connections, which she has drawn on over the past year to gain support and raise a record-breaking $38 million for her campaign fund.

Hochul had to hit the ground running, coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, which had yet to bring the omicron surge, and within days of taking office, dealing with a major hurricane.

The governor, on the one-year anniversary, continued what’s been an active public schedule for the past 12 months. She highlighted what she considers to be some of her accomplishments in the past year, appearing with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who’s also a Democrat, and federal ATF director Steven Dettelbach at a meeting of an interstate task force on illegal guns begun by Hochul.

We’re not done, but I think taking 6,000 guns off the streets over the last year through a coordinated effort is something that the criminals are not happy about,” Hochul said.

Hochul and the Legislature also strengthened the state’s gun safety laws after a mass shooting in Hochul’s hometown of Buffalo in the spring.

The governor also took action in the wake of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one that threw out the state’s limits on carrying a concealed weapon, and the other that overturned the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade. New York had already codified the abortion rights in Roe into state law, but Hochul and the Legislature went a step further, beginning the process to include those rights into the state’s constitution, and setting up a fund to help women from states where abortion is banned to seek access in New York.

A few hours after the summit on illegal guns, Hochul presided over the official opening of the State Fair in Syracuse, where she received the distinguished alumni medallion from the 4-H club. She was a member when she was a child.

Hochul’s opponents, including Republicans in the State Legislature, and the GOP candidate for governor, Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, have focused on the higher crime rate, inflation, and the state’s high taxes and cost of living.

Zeldin wants to repeal the controversial 2019 bail reform laws, which ended most forms of cash bail and have been criticized by law enforcement groups. Zeldin says he experienced what he views as flaws in the laws when he was attacked by a troubled war veteran in late July at a campaign appearance near Rochester. The alleged attacker was released without bail. Zeldin was not injured.

He was charged with a violent felony, and he was released back out onto the streets,” Zeldin said on July 25th.

The man was later held on the federal charge of attempting to assault a member of Congress.

Hochul already rolled back some of the bail laws this spring. She held up passage of the state budget to convince Democratic state legislative leaders to add back more crimes to once again be bail-eligible. Judges were given more criteria to use to hold someone pretrial.

Hochul says the tools are in place to hold defendants deemed to be potentially dangerous, and she blames judges and prosecutors for not following them.

The Republican candidate for governor, who has collected far less money than Hochul, about $1.6 million, has also highlighted pay-to-play allegations against some of Hochul’s fundraising methods, something Hochul denies.

Hochul, while ahead of Zeldin in the polls, has not received a voter approval rating higher than 46%. A Siena College poll in early August found while Hochul was ahead by 14 points, Zeldin was strong in some key swing suburban districts and among independent voters. Spokesman Steve Greenberg says Zeldin needs to do some more work, though, if he wants to catch up to Hochul.

“Zeldin’s going to have to do better with independents,” said Greenberg. “He’s got to win independents. And he’s got to cut into Hochul’s lead with Democrats.”

Zeldin, who is pro-life, has not highlighted his anti-abortion stance.

The governor and her supporters are heartened by Tuesday’s win by Democrat Pat Ryan in a special election in a swing congressional district in the Hudson Valley. Ryan, who is pro-abortion rights, made supporting those rights a centerpiece of his campaign, while his opponent, Republican Marc Molinaro, who is against abortion, focused on crime and the economy.

Hochul commented on the win on Wednesday, saying Ryan’s victory reflects a “national trend” .

“You also talk about the values that we share as New Yorkers. That we respect these two important areas, abortion rights and protecting people from gun violence,” Hochul said. “Thats how you win elections.”

The governor hopes those issues will carry her over the finish line in November.

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.