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Hochul increasingly likely to face a primary challenge

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference Tuesday evening in Albany
Darren McGee
Office of the Governor
Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference Tuesday evening in Albany

It’s increasingly likely that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will face challenges in the June 2022 Democratic primary when she runs for election to the seat next year. Potential opponents include the state’s attorney general and New York City’s public advocate.

Attorney General Tish James was considered a potential challenger to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had intended to seek a fourth term in office.

But then, two reports by the attorney general – one on allegations of a cover-up of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, and another on accusations of sexual harassment from 11 women -- led to Cuomo’s resignation.

James spoke Wednesday to a New York City-based business group, Association for a Better New York, where she noted that the previous speaker had been Eric Adams, who won the Democratic primary in New York City’s mayoral race in June.

“And here I am, Letitia James, and, so who knows,” James said to laughter from the audience.

“Don’t read anything into that,” she added.

She then gave the audience plenty to speculate on, touting her accomplishments as attorney general and attacking the man she might have faced in the 2022 primary, Andrew Cuomo. She said Cuomo has never apologized for his behavior toward the women named in her report.

“Mr. Cuomo has a lot to say on these matters, but he has never taken responsibility for his own conduct,” James said. “He has never held himself accountable for how his behavior affected our state government.”

James said Cuomo viewed all his decisions, including nursing home policy during the pandemic, through a “political lens” that did not necessarily serve the public’s interest.

Cuomo has denied that he sexually harassed anyone. A spokesman for the former governor, Rich Azzopardi, continued to disparage James’ report, saying she has “ducked questions” about its details, something that James denies.

James never mentioned Hochul by name.

Another potential contender, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, has already run against Hochul for the lieutenant governor post in the 2018 Democratic primary. Williams lost by just under seven percentage points.

He told reporters in New York City that he’s taking steps to potentially begin a campaign.

“We’ve opened an exploratory committee,” Williams said. “I’m very excited about that.”

Williams spoke from outside Hochul’s office during a rally pushing for a fund to help victims of Cuomo’s nursing home policies. Hochul later said she would consider it.

Williams credits the new governor for some of the changes she’s made so far, including firing Cuomo’s former top aides, pushing out the controversial health commissioner, and demanding more transparency.

But he said many of her achievements so far are “low-hanging fruit.” And he contrasted himself to other politicians, who he said have only recently offered reforms of a long-troubled governing system in New York.

“We have been consistently condemning wrong policy choices that were happening for a very long time,” Williams said. “Some folks have gotten a little more courage in the past few months. There were some of us who were standing tall when it was very difficult to do that.”

Hochul made clear just two days after Cuomo resigned that she would seek election as governor next year.

Hochul made the remarks to Savannah Guthrie on NBC’s “Today” show, who asked Hochul if she would seek election to next year.

“Yes, I will,” Hochul answered. “I’m the most prepared person to assume this responsibility, and I am going to ask the voters at some point for their faith in me again.”

So far, though, Hochul is not commenting publicly on any potential opponents. Reporters asked her about it at a recent meeting of the state’s Business Council, but she refused to answer.

“I’m not here to talk politics,” Hochul said. “I’ve got a very important job to do, and that is 100% of my focus.”

Hochul has spent a little bit of that focus on building a campaign. She held a fundraiser in Buffalo even before she was inaugurated as governor, with top tickets selling for $5,000, and she’s headlining an event with Rep. Carolyn Maloney on Oct. 18.

The New York Times reported that Hochul aims to quickly raise a solid campaign war chest of $25 million, and she's been meeting with and soliciting deep-pocketed donors, including real estate developers, wealthy business people and influential lobbyists.

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.