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New York Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls debate on eve of early voting

Democratic candidates for New York governor, Rep. Tom Suozzi, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Gov. Kathy Hochul debate Thursday on NBC.
Democratic candidates for New York governor, Rep. Tom Suozzi, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and Gov. Kathy Hochul debate Thursday on NBC.

At their final debate before the primary, the three New York Democratic gubernatorial candidates sparred on NBC Thursday night.

On the eve of 10 days of early voting in the June 28 Democratic primary, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams traded criticism and made their closing arguments.

The candidates were asked about what they would do to address gun violence, especially given the May mass shooting in Buffalo.

Williams and then Suozzi criticized Hochul for her pro-gun rating from the NRA while in Congress:

“Unfortunately, we're 10 years behind on this because we had a governor in Congress who's doing the work of the NRA,” Williams said. “I've been working on these issues for 10 years. It's not theoretical to me. I can name you people in high school who will no longer hear ‘A bullet went through my mother's car door parked in front of her home.’ It is great that this state passed laws to deal with mass shootings. But in Buffalo, almost 40 people lost their lives to gun violence. Ten of them were from this mass shooting, it was horrific. What pained me to see these commercials of signing this legislation is because that signing happened in the Bronx. And those bills did absolutely nothing to deal with the type of gun violence that you're speaking about right now.”

“Governor Kathy Hochul when she was a member of the United States Congress voted with the NRA, was endorsed by the NRA and took money from the NRA,” Suozzi said. “She said she's evolved. She didn't evolve after Columbine. She didn't involve after Virginia Tech. The only thing that evolved are the governor's political ambitions. The governor changes her positions based upon the office she's running upon.”

Hochul said Suozzi’s attack is a decade old, and responded that the state is preparing for the likelihood that the Supreme Court strikes down a concealed carry limit stemming from a Rensselaer County challenge.

“What I've talked about for a long time is ensuring that the state of New York, that governors do not have their power to protect their citizens stripped away by a Supreme Court decision that we believe is imminent,” she said. “So we have brought together the smartest minds, we are ready to, the second this decision comes down, analyze within a few hours and know which tactic they use to strike down a law that's been on the books protecting New Yorkers since the early 1900s.”

After taking over when Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned last August, Hochul is running for a full four-year term. She and Williams agreed that they would not accept an endorsement from Cuomo, while Suozzi would.

In one interesting moment, Suozzi was asked about New York City Mayor Eric Adams — a powerful Democrat who months ago offered Suozzi a position in his new administration — endorsing Hochul.

“It's another political reality that we have to face,” he said. “They say if you want a friend in politics, get a dog. I still consider Mayor Adams a great friend. But the reality is, he had to face the political reality that this governor has an enormous amount of money in the bank and has a lot of power right now.”

As Williams criticized Hochul for her role in the Cuomo administration’s rocky COVID response, Suozzi slammed the governor for naming as lieutenant governor state Senator Brian Benjamin, who resigned months later after pleading not guilty to federal fraud charges.

“The first decision she made 100% on her own, despite scandals swirling about him. She picked him. She doubled down on him. She tripled down on him. And he was arrested for bribery and corruption. She says oh, I didn't know, I was disappointed. We're disappointed governor. We're disappointed in the lack of judgment that you use during that process for a political decision.”

Hochul hit back over Suozzi’s failure to file timely stock transaction reports as required.

“The word hypocrisy does come to mind,” she said. “How someone, the only person on the stage who is actually under an active investigation by the House Ethics Committee, around ethics, you're under investigation for past violations as well as a new investigation, so you're not really in a position to lecture anybody about ethics, Congressman.”

Hochul replaced Benjamin with then-Congressman Antonio Delgado, while Suozzi is running with former New York City Councilmember Diana Reyna and Williams with activist Ana Maria Archila. Governors and lieutenant governors are voted on separately in the primary.

On the Republican side, the party endorsed Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin for governor in the race against former Westchester County Executive and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Rob Astorino, former Trump aide Andrew Giuliani, and 2010 comptroller nominee Harry Wilson.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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