New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has six months to convince voters to stick with her and not back one of her three likely high-profile primary rivals.
Hochul in August became New York's first female governor, moving up from lieutenant governor when her Democratic predecessor as the state's chief executive, Andrew Cuomo, resigned amid a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. The Democratic gubernatorial primary is on June 28, 2022, and Hochul already faces challenges for renomination from New York Attorney General Letitia James and Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents a district on the North Shore of Long Island. Outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is also fueling speculation he will enter the race.
Although Hochul is an early front-runner in the race, can she maintain that status after such a brief time in office? And will she have to answer to voters for the scandals of her predecessor? Both are open questions because, among other factors, Hochul hails from western New York. The lawyer and onetime Senate aide was a member of the Hamburg Town Council, near Buffalo, for 13 years. Hochul was then a clerk of Erie County for four years before winning a special House election in a traditionally Republican seat. But she lost reelection after 1 and 1/2 years in office when redistricting made her constituency deep red.
In James, Hochul faces a prominent attorney general whose office has brought charges against the businesses of former President Donald Trump. Suozzi is still trying to build his statewide name recognition, while de Blasio may hope his standing as New York City mayor overshadows his low approval ratings among city residents.
The Democratic primary winner will likely face Rep. Lee Zeldin, from eastern Long Island, who has the Republican gubernatorial nomination all but wrapped up.
A historian, author, and self-described “very lifelong New Yorker,” David Pietrusza told the Washington Examiner that the set of circumstances Hochul faces are far from unprecedented in New York.
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“In fact, it’s very recent where David Paterson came in after Eliot Spitzer had to leave, and then he was not renominated,” Pietrusza said. “Usually, I have to go back to the 1930s or something to come up with an analogy, but there’s one staring you right in the face.” Spitzer resigned as governor of New York in March 2008 amid a prostitution scandal, just 14 months after taking office.
Pietrusza said that while Hochul has the advantages of the platform of governor, she also has the opportunity to make mistakes as the chief executive of the state, for which voters could hold her accountable.
“These are tough times and getting tougher,” he said.
Pietrusza added that Hochul may need to distance herself from some of the scandals of the Cuomo administration. That includes attempting to obscure the real number of nursing home deaths in New York after he issued a directive requiring nursing homes to accept coronavirus patients from hospitals, which critics said increased the state’s death toll from COVID-19.
“I would imagine once the commercials start hitting the airwaves, Hochul will be tarred for, 'Where were you when all this bad stuff was going down, what did you know, and when did you know it?'” Pietrusza said.
Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg told the Washington Examiner the race is at such an early stage that it’s too soon to know which candidates voters will actually prefer next year.
“There’s a long time until the voters know what the field looks like,” Greenberg said. “At the moment, it’s really a measure of who do we know, who do we like.”
Greenberg said Hochul has a slight edge over her closest rival James in terms of favorability, but an indication of the strength of their candidacies will come with January fundraising reports.
“Even though it’s only six months away, it’s still early given the circumstances that you don’t have an incumbent or candidates that are super well known,” he said.
With the race still fluid and without candidates lacking significant name recognition among Democratic voters, it’s possible that a surprise candidate could emerge as the winner.
Pietrusza gave as an example that an alliance with New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams could greatly benefit Suozzi’s candidacy.
“It’s not unusual in New York for the mayor and the governor of the same party not to get along,” Pietrusza said, citing Cuomo and de Blasio's relationship as just the most recent example. But the friendship between Adams and Suozzi could potentially buck this trend, building a network of support for Suozzi.
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“He seems to be making noises about what needs to be done about safety in the city,” Pietrusza added.