Nine months after stepping into the post of New York governor as a relative unknown, Democrat Kathy Hochul easily closed her party’s nomination on Tuesday, putting her on an expected slide to win office in November.
Hochul served as lieutenant governor under the radar in the shadow of former Governor Andrew Cuomo until last year, when he resigned over sexual harassment allegations, which catapulted her into office.
Hochul on Tuesday defeated primary challenges from Jumaane Williams, New York City’s elected public advocate, and U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi, a Long Island moderate. Now she’s set her sights on becoming the first woman to win this fall’s election for the New York governor’s office.
In a nod to the barrier-breaking campaign, Hochul gave an election night speech on Tuesday on a podium under a glass ceiling in a Manhattan event space.
“I’m also here because I stand on the shoulders of generations of women, generations of women who had to constantly bang against that glass ceiling. For the women of New York, this one’s for you,” Hochul said.
Hochul goes into the general election campaign with a big advantage, running as the incumbent with a big fundraising advantage in a state that has more than twice as many registered Democrats than Republicans and has not had a GOP governor in 16 years.
She faces US Rep. Lee Zeldin, who won the Republican Party nomination on Tuesday. Zeldin is a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and was among the Republicans in Congress who voted against the certification of the 2020 election results.
The Long Island congressman will run for the first Republican elected governor in New York since Governor George Pataki was reelected in 2002.
Hochul’s prospects are expected to be even stronger this fall after the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights last week. She has made strengthening abortion rights an important part of her campaign.
Hochul reiterated that in her Tuesday night speech, declaring that the state “had transgressed to protect abortion rights” and “let the world know that New York State is a safe haven for American women.”
“We have one question to answer,” she said. “Are we going to move New York forward, or are we going to let the far-right extremist drag our state backwards?”
Since taking office in August, Hochul has sought to step out of Cuomo’s shadow and pledged a clear break with his government. She has said she had no close relationship with the former governor, who has denied doing anything wrong, and that she was not around to witness alleged wrongdoing.
Still, Cuomo’s presence loomed early in her campaign as he made public appearances last spring, criticizing Hochul and Democrats in Albany for their approach to crime and suggesting that he might run for his old job. Despite suggesting that he could run as an independent, the former governor ultimately did not apply.
Zeldin is an Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel who has represented East Long Island in Congress since 2015.
He defeated the main challenges of former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, businessman Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who often campaigned for his son.
He has focused his campaign on rising crime, criticizing Hochul for failing to tighten the state’s bail laws, imposing COVID-19 mitigation mandates and escalating costs. And while Hochul wants to make a fresh start from Cuomo, Zeldin has repeatedly referred to the “Cuomo-Hochul Administration.”
He will have to convince the independent voters of the state, who outnumber the Republicans, along with the Democrats, to win the general election. Democrats are expected to focus on Zeldin’s vocal defense of Trump during both his impeachment and his objection to the election results. Hochul will also likely focus on Zeldin’s statements praising the U.S. Supreme Court ruling quashing Roe v. Wade, and his comment that as governor he would appoint a state health commissioner against abortion.
Hochul focused her campaign on steps she took to strengthen abortion rights and steps to tighten the state’s gun laws after a racist mass shooting in Buffalo.
Suozzi and Williams criticized her for her endorsement of the National Rifle Association a decade ago and for her plan to spend more than $1.1 billion in state and county funds to build and maintain a new stadium for her hometown of Buffalo Bills.
She was also questioned about her choice of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who was arrested in April on charges of federal corruption related to his campaign funds.
Benjamin pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. Pointing to the short time frame she had to pick a #2, Hochul said she was assured all of the previously posed questions about Benjamin’s fundraising had been resolved.
Hochul replaced Benjamin with Antonio Delgado, who stepped down from his seat in Congress to accept the role. Delgado, also Hochul’s choice of running mate, won his primary on Tuesday. Zeldin’s running mate Alison Esposito is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
Tuesday’s elections in New York involved statewide offices and races of the state assembly, but the primary elections for seats in the U.S. House and State Senate will be held on Aug. 23. Those elections were postponed due to a district reclassification process that forced a court to throw away new political cards.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.