Sizing up the Democratic race for governor in 2022

New York has a new governor, Kathy Hochul.  She has already announced that she will be a candidate for election next year.  Bring down the checkered flag and start the race.

Okay, it is a tad early for the checkered flag but you can be sure that the other candidate wannabees are already getting organized.  What they lack, of course, is the spot in the favored pole position that Hochul has.  She is ready to go.

Hochul, of course, also has a state to run.  She will first need to assemble her own team as some Cuomo appointees quit or are fired.  Potential job candidates will be sizing up Hochul’s electability and the prospects of a position lasting potentially for five years or one year.

Issues related to COVID, centered most likely on things such as mask wearing requirements and the operation of schools, will continue to dominate attention.  The state finances are okay at the moment but the American Rescue funds from Washington will begin to dry up next year.  Public works will get a lot of attention given the availability of the federal money – which means lots of potential ribbon-cutting opportunities.

Relations with state legislators and local officials will improve significantly given the difference between Hochul’s working style and Cuomo’s.  Former Republican Congressman Peter King perhaps explains it best:  “Probably the best way to describe her, and it means something in today’s climate: She’s normal.”

There will be a general election in November 2022 with a Republican opponent.  We can get to that later.  The immediate issue is the Democratic primary that will take place on June 28th, ten months from now.  Potential Democratic opponents include:

  • Attorney General Leticia James has achieved substantial name recognition off of her office’s report on Governor Cuomo’s sex scandal and other investigations.  She previously held office in New York City as City Advocate and as a member of the City Council, but aside from the Cuomo report she is not well-known in the rest of the state and makes only infrequent upstate visits (Albany doesn’t count; she has her office there).
  • State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has been Comptroller since 2006 and has done a credible job.  It seems likely, however, that he will choose to run for re-election next year.
  • New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams ran a close race against Hochul in the 2018 primary for lieutenant governor and was subsequently elected City Advocate in New York, a position with opportunities for press but with basically no political power.
  • Congressman Thomas Suozzi, a former Nassau County Executive, ran for governor once before, in a Democratic primary against Elliott Spitzer in 2006.  He lost by 486,421 votes, 18 percent to 72 percent.
  • Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone has run the largest county government in the state since 2012 but outside of Long Island he would be starting from scratch with little to no name recognition.

A recent poll by a Kansas City, Missouri firm, co/efficient, offers some very early and tentative impressions about where the race stands in mid-August.  In a horserace question matching Hochul, James, New York Mayor Bill deBlasio, and “Someone Else,” Hochul comes out on top with 28 percent, followed by James at 24 percent and deBlasio at five percent.  DeBlasio will not be a candidate next year.

Having lots of money will, of course, be an important element in the gubernatorial race.  Again, Hochul is currently ahead in terms of dollars in the bank, but by a small margin.  Interestingly, her campaign committee choose to file a new financial disclosure report on August 14th even though the next official report is not due until January 15th.  It showed Hochul raising nearly $100,000 between July 11 and mid-August.  (The Democratic candidate for mayor of Buffalo, India Walton, who describes herself as a Democratic socialist, sent Hochul $250 through her Friends of India Walton committee on August 11th.  Mayor Byron Brown’s committee donated a total of $1,500 to Hochul in 2018 while Brown was State Democratic Chair).

As of mid-July Hochul had more cash on hand than the other potential candidates.  Over the past four years she raised nearly $4.4 million.  James’ haul during the same period was $8.1 million.   James had competitive primary and general elections in 2018 while Hochul at that time was part of the Cuomo ticket and didn’t need to raise or spend her own campaign funds for the general election. 

An examination of Hochul’s campaign financial reports shows a broad range of support from unions and business leaders distributed from Western New York to the New York City area. 

New York City still dominates Democratic politics in the state, although not perhaps to the degree that it once did.  Party leadership is much more diffused in the City than it once was.  The 2018 primaries for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general provide some insight into where the votes are in a primary and how well Hochul and James performed as candidates.

A total of 1,558,352 votes were cast in that election.  New York City votes accounted for 57.6 percent of the total state vote.  Cuomo defeated Cynthia Nixon by 31 percent of the vote.  Hochul won her primary with 53.4 percent of the vote, receiving 768,029 votes.  In a four way primary for attorney general James received 608,308 votes which was 40.3 percent of the total.

Hochul’s opportunity to be elected in 2022 will in large measure be determined by how well she performs as governor and how she organizes her campaign effort through the remainder of 2021.  It will also matter if she has more than one opponent from New York City.  Efficient and well organized efforts may be rewarded.  Stumbles could be magnified.

In one sense it is way too early to size up next year’s race for governor, but on the other hand it is getting pretty late.  Getting a statewide campaign off the ground requires a great deal of time, effort and money, and ten months until primary day is not too far away.  State party committees will be convening in February to endorse a candidate and petitions for candidates who don’t make the cut for a convention-qualified ballot position will hit the streets shortly after the state convention.

Kathy Hochul has inherited an opportunity that could elect her governor of New York in 2022.  Stat tuned.