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Hochul "prohibitive favorite" to win the June primary

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul tours Plattsburgh DRI sites
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul tours Plattsburgh DRI sites

In office for less than half a year, New York Governor Kathy Hochul is looking to be a strong favorite in November’s election. Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt takes a look at how far the governor has come in a short time, and what could still trip her up.

Governor Kathy Hochul is having a very good week.

“Today positive COVID cases are at 22,312, down 75% from our peak of 90,132 on January 7th,” Hochul said on Tuesday, as she gave her first state budget address.

Her state budget, chock full of spending proposals for nearly every segment of New York’s society, was widely received as positive.

Due to a surplus from higher than expected tax collections and well as record pandemic related federal aid packages, the governor was able to propose billions of more dollars in spending on health care and education. She also would like to enact property tax breaks and grants to still struggling small businesses.

As a result, groups ranging from the teachers union, to local government leaders, to the state’s Business Council, praised her spending plan.

“This is a moment of great possibility,” the governor said. “A once in a generation chance to consider what is possible for our state.”

While Hochul was giving her brief and to- the- point virtual address, her campaign was announcing that the governor, in office for just under five months, had raised $21.9 million so far for her election campaign, on par with her predecessor Andrew Cuomo, who was known for having hefty campaign war chests. Cuomo resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Also on Tuesday, a poll from Siena College titled “Hochul dominating the primary field” found that the governor has the backing of 46% of Democrats for the June primary, more than 30 points ahead of her nearest potential challenger.

That potential challenger, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had the backing of 12% of Democrats, announced a few hours later that he would not be running, after all. He spoke in a video he shot outside his home in Brooklyn.

“No, I am not going to be running for governor of New York State,” de Blasio said. “But I am going to devote every fiber of my being to fight inequality in the State of New York.”

The other candidates, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, had 11 percent and 6 percent.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg says Hochul has advanced her standing with voters in a short time frame. Last April, when she was the state’s lieutenant governor, two thirds of New Yorkers had either never heard of her or did not know enough about her to form an opinion. He says now, while one quarter of New Yorkers still say they haven’t heard enough about the governor to know how to rate her, 60% of Democrats like her and the job she is doing.

“There is no question that with now less than 22 weeks to primary day, that Hochul is the prohibitive favorite to win the nomination,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg says during New York’s executive-driven budget process, which continues until the end of March, Hochul has the levers of government at her disposal, and, so far, a good relationship with the legislature. And he says her large campaign account is nearly impossible for her opponents to match.

“She really is in the catbird’s seat as we head towards the primary,” he said.

But Greenberg says there are events that could turn the governor’s fortunes, including yet another wave of COVID-19, and discontent with pandemic related mandates, a natural disaster, or some other unforeseen occurrence.

Also, while voters like Hochul, they aren’t convinced she can meet her stated goals, including restoring trust in government and making communities safer from crime.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.