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Lieutenant governor candidate Hochul keeps a low profile

Matt Ryan, New York Now
Kathy Hochul joins Gov. Andrew Cuomo to announce their candidacy during the Democratic state convention in May.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, lieutenant governor nominee Kathy Hochul, is keeping an unusually low profile during the first months of the election campaign. The lack of public campaigning by Hochul is starting to raise some questions.

Kathy Hochul, a former one-term congresswoman and former Erie County clerk, appeared with Cuomo at the state Democratic convention in May, one day after she was chosen to run as lieutenant governor.

Hochul promised the audience that she would “carry our message of hope and optimism across this great state.”

Since then, Hochul has given no other speeches in the nearly two months after the convention. Her campaign has never released a public schedule, something candidates commonly do. Her absence led the New York Post to write a story accusing Cuomo of purposely keeping her under wraps, and inspiring headlines in follow-up stories like "Where in the World is Kathy Hochul," and calling her the "milk carton candidate."

Hochul’s Twitter feed shows she attended a Fourth of July parade, and has met one-on-one or in small groups with local officials and voters. But those events were posted on Twitter after they had occurred. She has given no interviews, and since late May has not answered any questions.

But Cuomo says anyone who thinks Hochul is in hiding is reading too much into it.

“How absurd a theory is that?” said Cuomo, who called the idea silly.

Hochul, who is now a bank lobbyist, is largely unknown outside western New York. In the past, she has held conservative views on immigration, at one point drawing up a plan when she was Erie County Clerk to immediately turn in to authorities immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally.

She’s also been endorsed by the NRA for her views on Second Amendment rights. Hochul faces a primary challenge, and those past views might not be palatable to Democratic primary voters, who are more liberal than voters in the general election.

In contrast, Cuomo has been friendlier lately with the left-leaning elements of his party. He’s told the progressive Working Families Party that he will pursue passage of the Dream Act -- to give college aid to undocumented immigrants -- among other things. Hochul, in her one and so far only public appearance campaigning with Cuomo, back on May 23 in Buffalo, says she now supports the Dream Act.

Meanwhile, other candidates for lieutenant governor, including Hochul’s Democratic primary opponent Tim Wu, have been giving interviews, holding media events and meeting with potential voters.

“I’m doing what is normal,” said Wu. “If you are running for office, you go out and meet the voters.”

Wu says he subscribes to the theory that Hochul is keeping a low profile until the September primary because of her past conservative positions. He says her positions are far from the Democratic mainstream.

“She might be a little more comfortable in the tea party or the Republican Party,” said Wu.

Wu predicts if Democratic Party voters knew more about Hochul’s positions, they wouldn’t vote for her.

Wu spoke on the phone while he awaited a television reporter to conduct another interview.

The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss, had four events, which were publicly announced on a recent day. He routinely releases a public schedule and gives interviews to media.

“I’ll be traveling around the state to campaign,” Moss said at the time of his nomination.

Moss’ running mate, Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino, joked that the missing Malaysian airliner would be found before Hochul is seen out campaigning in public.

“I will never put duct tape and shove my lieutenant governor candidate into a proverbial trunk,” said Astorino. “I’m proud of my running mate.”

A request for an interview with Hochul to discuss her campaign was not answered.

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.