NEW YORK – Kathy Hochul, the Buffalo resident who a only year ago dwelled in Andrew M. Cuomo’s shadow as lieutenant governor, easily captured a three-way Democratic primary for governor Tuesday in a victory that anoints her as undisputed leader of the New York Democratic Party.
Trailing in early returns to Andrew Giuliani – son of the former New York mayor – Rep. Lee Zeldin pulled into a double-digit lead once returns from Long Island were counted. The two other candidates, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and businessman Harry Wilson, trailed far behind.
News outlets declared Hochul the victor shortly after 9 p.m. as early returns showed her posting an overwhelming lead. She appeared to be swamping Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi of Nassau County – where he trailed by double digits – as well as New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. She was scoring a major plurality in New York City, outpacing even Brooklyn’s Williams.
She was also expected to prevail in her home county of Erie as the first Buffalo Democrat to run for governor since James M. Mead in 1946. Indeed, early results showed neither Suozzi nor Williams breaking double digits in Erie County.
With the results never in doubt, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado took to the stage just after 10 p.m. to declare victory in his own primary against two opponents, adding that much more frosting to Hochul’s victory cake.
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At 10:10 p.m., the newly nominated candidate took the stage to overwhelming cheers from a crowd enjoying an open bar all through the night. She thanked her family, including her husband, Bill – “New York’s first, first gentleman.” She thanked Delgado and even mentioned the campaign of opponent Williams but did not allude to Suozzi.
But this night belonged to Hochul, who stood before a New York Democratic Party tracing its lineage through a litany of historic names – all men. Clad in the white color often worn by the early suffragettes, Hochul then paid homage to the women who came before her.
“I stand on the shoulders of generations of women who constantly banged up against that glass ceiling,” she proclaimed. “Women of New York, this is for you!”
For a moment, the new nominee dwelled on the many problems faced by New Yorkers – inflation, hurricane damage, and a wave of crime and violence she acknowledged has engulfed the state.
“Most shockingly, (that includes) my hometown of Buffalo, N.Y.,” she said in reference to the May 14 shooting that claimed 10 Black lives. “I still can’t comprehend that.”
But the governor drew her loudest cheers by pushing back against recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, especially Friday’s order overturning Roe v. Wade and the previous constitutional right to abortion.
“Abortion rights are not going anywhere as long as I’m governor,” she boomed.
The governor now looks to the general election on Nov. 3 against Republican Lee Zeldin, when she will again be considered the favorite in uber-Democratic New York, but is still expected to face a strong challenge.
At her primary election headquarters at the Tribeca Rooftop in Manhattan, jubilant Hochul supporters were suddenly energized about winning again in November. That would make her the first woman to win election as New York governor and the first upstate resident since 1920.
Hochul, 63, cruised to victory in part on the strength of her successful fundraising since succeeding Cuomo following his August resignation, reporting to the state Board of Elections about $34 million in contributions and spending about $23 million. She is also expected to begin the general election campaign in better financial shape than her Republican opponent.
In addition, she early on sewed up the backing of just about every party leader in New York, including state Chairman Jay S. Jacobs – formerly a staunch Cuomo ally. That supplied her with all the organizational advantages of phone banks and volunteers canvassing neighborhoods throughout the state.
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Hochul also used the full extent of the vast powers of her office, dispensing billions of dollars worth of new projects and programs around the state since shepherding her own $221 billion budget through the Legislature in April. In Erie County alone, Hochul emphasized the state’s largess in financing big ticket items like $1 billion to cover the Kensington Expressway and reconnect an East Side neighborhood, $600 million for a new Buffalo Bills stadium, and a host of other local projects.
Though she looks to November with all the advantages of party registration and incumbency, Hochul had to work hard for her primary victory. Suozzi, who also unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006 against Eliot L. Spitzer, positioned himself as a “common sense” Democrat in an attempt to woo back party members attracted to other parties in recent years. In many ways echoing Republican themes, Suozzi called for lower taxes and eased regulations to encourage business and stem the state’s loss of population.
But as in 2006, against the choice of party leaders, Suozzi never gained enough traction to seriously contend. He gained few endorsements from established Democrats and could not overcome the advantages brought by the party organization and Hochul’s incumbency. Indeed, though Suozzi campaigned for Byron W. Brown in last year’s general election for mayor of Buffalo, Brown fell in line with the rest of the party hierarchy and backed his fellow Buffalonian.
Suozzi, 59, forfeited his seat in the House of Representatives to seek the state’s top job for the second time. He never shied away from criticizing the governor’s deal for a state contribution of $600 million for a new Buffalo Bills stadium, while continually recalling Hochul’s top rating from the National Rifle Association while representing a primarily Republican district in Congress a decade ago.
Similarly, Williams, 46, was unable to rally enough of the state’s most progressive Democrats who previously backed him during campaigns for a Brooklyn seat on the New York City Council and the citywide post of public advocate. He also questioned the state’s contribution to the “billionaire owners” of the Bills, posing his own $1 billion plan to combat gun violence as a more worthy alternative.
And like the others, Williams listed fighting rising crime rates as a “top pillar” of his plans if elected. But he failed in his second bid for statewide office after also losing to Hochul in the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Indeed, that election cemented Hochul as a Democratic power in her own right, defeating a New York City officeholder despite her upstate roots.
In previous years, Williams’ presence on the ballot as nominee of the Working Families Party might have posed a problem because of the possibility of splitting the November vote against the Republican candidate. But new election laws could make it easier for Williams to exit the ballot, and possibly throw his support to Hochul.