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Hochul's primary opponents make pitch for more diverse voices

Jumaane Williams campaigns in Albany 9/11/18.
Karen DeWitt
Jumaane Williams campaigns in Albany 9/11/18.

At the state Democratic Party convention, where Governor Kathy Hochul was in line to be nominated for election Thursday, her two primary rivals addressed the delegates at a breakfast. Tom Suozzi and Jumaane Williams say the party needs to listen to more voices if it wants to succeed in 2022.

The media was barred from the delegate’s breakfast, but Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi streamed his speech live on his Facebook page. He told the audience that many of them had tried to persuade him from challenging Governor Hochul, including the event’s keynote speaker, former First Lady, U.S. Senator and 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

“I spoke with our keynote speaker today, Hillary Clinton, a few months ago, she tried to persuade me not to run,” Suozzi told the delegates.

Afterward, speaking with reporters, Suozzi said it’s not the first time that high-ranking Democratic Party members have tried to talk him out of running for something. He says some attempted to dissuade him from running for Nassau County Executive and for Congress, both positions that he won. He says in all of the instances, he didn’t listen.

“Because I feel so strongly that the country is in a lot of trouble, that people are not talking to each other, that the state’s in a lot of trouble” Suozzi said. “And we have a problem with the Democratic Party. That we are not talking to the people about the issues that they really care about.”

Suozzi says voters are worried about the rising crime rate, high taxes, troubled schools and high utility bills. And he says Hochul’s proposal to override local zoning laws to allow Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADU’s, mini houses on existing homeowners' properties, is a “debacle.”

Many of those issues are of concern to people in the New York City suburbs, who are a key swing vote in past elections. In 2021, Suozzi’s home county of Nassau saw big Republican wins. One day before the Democratic convention, State Senator Todd Kaminksy and Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, both Democrats, announced that they are not seeking re -election this year.

Suozzi appeared with his running mate, Diana Reyna, a former New York City Council member and former deputy Brooklyn borough president when New York City Mayor Eric Adams held that job. Like Suozzi, whose father came from Italy, she is also a first generation American, of Dominican heritage. She says she also wants to take a stand.

“This is about making sure that there is a common sense approach,” Reyna said. “People are tired of the lies. People are tired of being told that everything’s going to be get better and nothing gets better.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also spoke to the delegates, then met with the media. Williams has championed issues like affordable housing and fair treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system, including ending discriminatory policing. He criticized the convention for protecting incumbents at the expense of diverse voices.

“We all know it’s kind of pageantry here, it’s set up for the incumbents,” said Williams, who said his message is for “working New Yorkers.”

“They understand we can’t go back to normal,” Williams said. “Normal is what got us here. Normal didn't work.”

Williams says a controversy that arose Wednesday when the initial roster at the convention included no Latinx speakers is an example of the party neglecting parts of its constituency. Several Latinx speakers were added late Wednesday evening.

And Williams, a progressive Democrat who has gained the endorsement of the Working Families Party, credits successful GOP candidates on Long Island and elsewhere who are running against business as usual.

“The (Republicans) have leaned into those kinds of candidates,” Williams said. “And they’ve been whooping the Democrats’ behind.”

Neither Williams nor Suozzi were given the customary 25% of the delegates' approval to place them automatically on the primary ballot. Suozzi, who joked at the delegates’ breakfast that he had about as much chance of winning the 25% from the party as he did at meeting of Russian President Putin’s General Assembly, says it isn’t fair.

“I’m not some yahoo candidate, Jumaane Williams is not some yahoo candidate,” said Suozzi. “We are elected officials. We’ve been around for a long time”.

But he says he expects to successfully collect the 15,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.

Williams says it could even be an advantage to petition.

“It’s a great opportunity to organize on the ground, speak to people,” Williams said. “Have them commit, in their minds, by signing the petition.”

Williams petitioned his way onto the 2018 Democratic primary ballot for lieutenant governor, where he gained 47% of the vote against the winner, then-lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul.

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.
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