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What Gov. Hochul's win means for New York, state politics

New York Governor Kathy Hochul tells reporters on April 7, 2022 that her office has received a conceptual agreement with state lawmakers on a state budget.
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul tells reporters on April 7, 2022 that her office has received a conceptual agreement with state lawmakers on a state budget.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul became the first woman ever elected to the role Tuesday, turning away a challenge from Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin. The race was one of the closest in the Empire State in recent history, but in the end, Democrats extended their 20-year statewide winning streak.

Our Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt was at Hochul’s victory party in Manhattan.

So, after all that, Kathy Hochul did hold on and win the race. How did she do it?

That's right, the party last night was a little bit slow to get going, but it did gain momentum. It just took a really long time for them to call the race and I think part of that was because Zeldin had so much momentum in the final weeks of the campaign on the issue of crime, fears about public safety, and it seemed like Hochul was kind of floundering on that. And, you know, Zeldin did have all that momentum. He also had a lot of last-minute money from Super PACs, including about $11 million from Ron Lauder, the conservative cosmetics heir in New York City. But I'm thinking now with the results, maybe his momentum started a little too early, because Hochul did have time to react and she called in the big guns. President Biden, he came three times to New York and recent weeks, both of the Clintons, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Vice President Kamala Harris, and they emphasized what she had been emphasizing in the beginning of her campaign, which is abortion rights. And talking about Zeldin being an election denier, at least on January 6, 2021, when he voted to decertify the 2020 election. So now he does, you know, admit that that Biden won. And also, she played up his associations with former President Donald Trump, who is not popular in New York. So, I think she had some time in the final days to make her closing argument and make her points.

What did she say to her supporters who are gathered for the party?

Well, that she's making history, or maybe we should say “her-story.” But she feels like, you know, she's really got to get to work and she seemed, you know, kind of humbled by it, which is kind of, you know, her demeanor and I think that's why she gets underestimated. She's not a typical New York politician. Coming from Buffalo, and I know because I was born in Buffalo, Buffalo in some ways, is more like the Midwest than eastern New York or New York City. And people just have kind of a more of a low-key demeanor. and I think part of that also, you know, being the first female, you know, who was running for this role, I think that that she was underestimated the whole time.

Have you had a chance to stop and think about how much has changed in New York state politics in the past year and a half? I mean, if you asked at the start of 2021, what we'd be talking about, just after the midterm elections, probably Andrew Cuomo's third reelection campaign.

It's hard to take in, I don't feel like I've processed the last two years, especially with COVID, and everything else going on. But yeah, what name was not mentioned last night? Andrew Cuomo. He really had no role in this election at all, and partly because he took himself out of it. I mean, he kind of tested the waters thinking maybe he could run, but I think it was a little too soon after resigning just, you know, last August. The other thing that was interesting, Ian when I was like surveying the crowd last night, it was just a different crowd of Democrats. I thought, I don't even know a lot of these faces. It's not the same people who were there with, you know, when I started out with Mario Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo’s father who was governor and with Andrew Cuomo, it was really, kind of a new crowd. I mean, there were some people I noticed. Liz Holtzman was there, the former Brooklyn Congresswoman and DA, and you know, a couple of people like that, but it was definitely a different crowd. It was like, a younger crowd was held, you know, more in downtown Manhattan and Chinatown, maybe a cooler kind of crowd than the old fashion days of, you know, they used to rent out those big old fashioned Midtown hotels further venues. So yeah, it does seem like things are definitely changing and it's a new cast of characters now in New York state government.

How did the Hochul/Delgado ticket perform compared to earlier Democratic tickets against the Republican Lee Zeldin and Alison Esposito?

No comparison and also, the Republicans in those cases didn't really run as good of campaigns as Lee Zeldin did, frankly, I mean, Zeldin was in New York City every day trying to capture part of that vote that in the past the Republicans just kind of conceded to the Democrats. So yeah, I mean, it is, it was a lot closer, not as close as people thought in the current, you know, midday Wednesday, Board of Elections numbers show Hochul with 52% of the vote to Zeldin’s 47%. So, it's closer than it has been certainly, it was more of a contest. But also, you know, Hochul, this was really her first time running and even with a year in office, we all knew her because we cover her every day, but a lot of the public, they still didn't really know who she was or what she represented. So, I think that there were some doubts there as well.

What's the state of play in Albany going into the next legislative session? Obviously, Republicans made some inroads in the state legislature, but Democrats will still be running the show, right?

Right. But in the legislature, especially the State Senate, they're still going to have what's called marginals, which are Democrats in their conference who are kind of barely hanging on to their seats, but might come from more conservative districts. And I think that that indicates that they probably are going to have to revisit the bail reform laws, the other criminal justice changes that Zeldin made such an issue of in the campaigns, and perhaps not have as many progressive bills passing as easily as they have in the last couple of years.

What do we know about Hochul’s agenda and priorities now that she's secured a full term?

You know, she didn't say a lot about what she's going to do next, which was one of the complaints against her in the campaign. One thing that I'm looking for is the state's midterm budget report that was supposed to come out October 31st. It was delayed. We asked Hochul about it, she said, “Oh, they’re still working on it.” But it seems like not too much of a coincidence that it didn't come out before the November 8th election. So, there may be budget issues, you know, because of the weaknesses in the economy that she's going to have to deal with. Another law they might have to revisit is the concealed carry law, carrying of concealed weapons. The federal judge has thrown out a lot of that law. Will they go back and revisit that? And, you know, I think that, really, she's going to have to lay out an agenda that she hasn't really done so far. She knows what she's going to do in the next term. She hasn’t really told a lot of the public about it yet.

What about her fellow constitutional officers? Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Tish James were both fairly easily reelected on Tuesday. So are things basically staying the same instate government?

Well, and that case, yes, I don't think that the opponents of James or DiNapoli put up really much of a race. That was not a competitive race at all. I think if they got any votes, it was just people voting along the Republican line because they like Zeldin. So, that'll probably be the same. Attorney General Tish James certainly is ambitious. She wanted to, well, she did run for governor for about eight weeks last year. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is a Democrat, but he's also pretty Independent. He's certainly stood up to Democratic governors before. So, I think that could maybe happen in the future, if there's any conflicts that come up.

Where do you think this leaves the state Republican Party? As you say, this was the best gubernatorial campaign they ran in quite a while but York is blue and it stayed blue despite everything.

Yeah, I know. I think that they've got to be pretty discouraged about that because they had control of the Senate for so long, even though there weren't as many Republicans in the state and so, they did have a voice and a lot of government and this kind of puts them even further out. Their party chair Nick Langworthy, who would often you know, make very good case for the Republicans, speaking strong language. He kind of got out of the whole business of running the state Republican Party by getting himself elected for Congress in in Western New York. So, I think he landed pretty well. But for the rest of the Republicans, yeah, I mean, I think they have to rethink and as they're saying, on the national level, perhaps the association with Donald Trump isn't helping them and that might have weakened Zeldin ultimately, and you know, part of the reason why he lost the race.

Any guesses where Zeldin goes from here? He's leaving Congress, of course, he's come close in the governor's race, but didn't win. But he's young.

I thought about that. And he's got he's got two teenage daughters, presumably going to be going to college. You need money for that. I mean, I imagine he would get a good job in the private sector. I mean, he is a skilled attorney and he'll probably have to do something to make money for a while and, you know, reevaluate. He did come closer than any Republican has since George Pataki's successful win, an upset victory back in 1994. So, I don't think I don't think we've heard the last of him, that’s for sure.

OK, one more thing, and you probably won't like this. But you are a trailblazing woman in the press corps that covers state government. What is the meaning of New York having elected its first female governor to you?

Well, I'm just glad I live long enough to see it.

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.
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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