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Primaries for NY governor offer Democrats and Republicans varying choices

Voting booths
Pat Bradley

New York’s registered Democrats and Republicans are voting in primaries Tuesday that will determine the parties’ choices for governor. While Governor Kathy Hochul is comfortably ahead of her two Democratic opponents, the result of the four-way Republican primary is less clear.

Hochul wants to be elected to a full four-year term as governor, after replacing former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last August over multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Cuomo, a Democrat, denies wrongdoing.

In the weeks leading up to the primary, Hochul has honed in on two issues.

One is gun safety. She has signed several bills into law, including one banning anyone under 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle, and another that strengthens the state’s red flag laws. And she’s using her hefty campaign fund – she has millions more than her opponents do – to run ads highlighting the changes.

“If Washington won’t act to keep people safe, I will,” Hochul says in the ad.

The governor has also called a special session to address the June 23rd U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state’s restrictions on carrying a concealed weapon.

The second major issue is abortion. Before the June 24th U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, Hochul and the Legislature took steps to protect the rights of people seeking abortion care services both in New York, and from those living in states where the procedure will now be banned. Hochul says those rights won’t be taken away under her watch.

“They are simple messages,” Hochul said during a bill signing ceremony on June 13. “Not here, not now, not ever.”

Recent polls show Hochul firmly in the lead, says Siena College polling spokesman Steve Greenberg.

“Hochul is certainly the front-runner,” Greenberg. “The expectation is that she will win the primary. The question is how big will the margin be.”

Hochul’s opponents are New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a progressive Democrat, and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, a moderate. They have attacked Hochul on her past support for gun ownership rights that gave her an A rating from the NRA ten years ago, when she was in Congress.

Williams spoke during a debate sponsored by WCBS-TV and CBS News radio 880.

“Ten years ago, I wrote my first report on how to deal with gun violence while the governor was touting her ‘A’ rating from the NRA,” Williams said. “I wish we’d had her support so that during that decade of death, we could have gotten farther then where we are today.”

Hochul says her recent actions on gun safety prove that she has evolved.

Williams says Hochul hasn’t done enough to help tenants struggling to pay rising rents or to fix a criminal justice system that is unfair to Black and brown communities.

Suozzi, who calls himself a “common-sense” Democrat, is also blaming Hochul for the rising crime rates, and the 2019 bail reform laws that ended cash bail for many crimes. He’s also critical of Hochul’s deal to keep the Buffalo Bills in Western New York, saying she authorized over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds to subsidize the NFL team.

“That’s the biggest giveaway taxpayer giveaway in the history of the NFL,” Suozzi said during the debate. “And even worse, it was announced four days before the budget was due.”

Suozzi has also promised to lower the state’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.

While Hochul is favored to win, her running mate, Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, does not hold the same level of support.

Delgado, who is largely unknown to voters outside his former congressional district in the Hudson Valley, did not take his post until late May. Hochul’s first choice, former Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, resigned in April after being indicted on federal corruption charges.

In New York’s primaries, lieutenant governors are elected separately from governors, although the two top vote-getters for each post run together as a ticket in the general election in November.

Voters can also choose Suozzi’s running mate Diana Reyna, or Williams’ running mate, Ana Maria Archila, a progressive activist who’s been endorsed by Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On the Republican side, the party’s nominee, Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, is defending himself against three challengers in a contentious primary.

During a debate on the conservative news channel Newsmax, Zeldin, who is against abortion, says his priorities are to “respect life (and) respect freedom,” including Second Amendment rights.

“It is important to have a strong, principled structure and backbone,” said Zeldin. “Which is lacking unfortunately with a government that thinks they want to rule the people. No. The people want to be in charge of their own government.”

Andrew Giuliani, the son of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and adviser to former President Donald Trump, is about even with Zeldin in some polls. Andrew Giuliani says he’s closer to Trump, who remains popular among Republicans in New York, than are the other candidates.

“I’m very honored to have served the last four years of my time in the Trump White House, “Giuliani said. “Working on important issues, like the Paycheck Protection Program.”

And he says he’d bring that experience to state government to “change Albany.”

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and businessman Harry Wilson are also running in the Republican primary.

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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