Buffalo’s Kathy Hochul trounced New York City law professor Tim Wu in the unexpectedly hard-fought race for lieutenant governor Tuesday, making the former congresswoman and Erie County clerk Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s running mate in the November election.
The Associated Press called the race for Hochul at about 10:25 p.m. With 91 percent of precincts reporting at about 11:40 p.m., Hochul led with 59.2 percent of the vote, compared with 40.8 for Wu.
Hochul’s victory means that she and Cuomo will run together on the same ticket in November, despite New York’s unusual rules in which candidates for governor and lieutenant governor have to run separately in party primaries. Cuomo, a Democrat who is seeking a second term, defeated Zephyr Teachout, Wu’s running mate and another New York City law professor, in the race for the gubernatorial nomination.
A jubilant Hochul entered Erie County Democratic headquarters shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday, receiving a raucous round of applause from the crowd of local politicos.
“A lot of you know I had a hole in my heart when I left Congress,” said Hochul, who lost her congressional re-election bid to former Erie County Executive Chris Collins in 2012. “But now I find myself with an even higher honor.”
Meanwhile, at the Teachout-Wu headquarters in Manhattan, Wu said the race – which pitted him against a candidate with 10 times more campaign cash – was a mismatch.
“There was a team of five of us that was fighting a multi-million dollar machine,” Wu said. “I think we put on a pretty damn good show.”
Nevertheless, Hochul’s victory was a resounding one. She performed well throughout Western New York and the Southern Tier, and – in a surprise – appeared in a position to win every county south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, including the liberal boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Hochul, long noted as a dynamic and tireless campaigner, said her hard work downstate helped her win there.
“I took it to the streets,” she said. “I was all over the boroughs. I made sure people knew the values I represent.”
In an interview shortly before the results came in, Wu acknowledged his opponent’s hard work.
“Kathy Hochul, to give her some credit, has mounted a vigorous defense over the last week,” Wu said.
Still, the race was a brutal one for Hochul, who started it with low name recognition in the vote-rich New York City region and who was haunted by a middle-of-the-road record in a party with a burgeoning progressive movement.
Hochul opposed driver’s licenses for undocumented aliens while serving as Erie County clerk and had a pro-gun voting record in Congress, where she also voted with Republicans to tinker with the Affordable Care Act and federal environmental laws.
That allowed Wu, a 42-year-old professor at Columbia University and one of the nation’s leading legal experts on the Internet, to portray Hochul, 56, as a conservative out of step with downstate voters.
Wu said Democrats must renew their commitment to environment and fighting inequality.
The New York Times helped his cause with an editorial endorsing Wu and labeling Hochul “a conservative woman from upstate New York,” even though National Journal’s study of congressional voting records said she had a 60 percent score on the liberal scale and a 40 percent score on the conservative scale.
A lot of young people attended the Teachout-Wu headquarters gathering.
In the face of all the criticism, Hochul ignored Wu and waged a traditional campaign, winning endorsements from several major labor unions and building strong ties to downstate politicians – including Bill de Blasio, New York’s progressive mayor – who could help her turn out the vote on primary day.
Campaigning with de Blasio and a long list of New York City Democrats paid off in the end, Hochul said.
“I was not new to people like Bill de Blasio,” Hochul said, adding that the “validation” she received from New York City politicians helped build her vote totals in the city.
But Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner attributed the bulk of Hochul’s victory downstate to her campaign style.
“To know Kathy Hochul is to love Kathy Hochul,” he said. Voters in New York City “came to love her as we do,” Zellner added.
If elected in November, Hochul would be the first lieutenant governor from Western New York since Stan Lundine of Jamestown served under then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo – the current governor’s father – in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
She promises to be a fairly traditional lieutenant governor, stressing she wants to be a partner with Cuomo.
In an interview last week, Hochul said she sees herself taking on some assignments from the governor, such as his women’s equality agenda, while overseeing his regional economic development councils and delving deep into some issues of personal interest, such as veterans affairs.
“The governor called me and said: ‘Kathy, will you be my partner?’ ” she told voters in Brooklyn. “I thought about it for about two seconds, and I said yes. This is where I belong.”
In contrast, when asked if he saw the lieutenant governor as a partner with the governor, Wu said: “No, not really. I think we could share ceremonial duties, if need be, but no. But I see it as not being a partnership.”
As lieutenant governor, Wu wanted to serve as the state’s “public advocate,” shining a light on problems that other state officials would rather ignore.
For example, in an interview, Wu said he wanted to focus on the Time Warner-Comcast merger and its effect on consumers – or perhaps on public corruption.
After Cuomo shut down his Moreland Commission investigation of public wrongdoing when investigators appeared to be looking at figures close to the governor, “I was sort of surprised that there weren’t state-level hearings or inquiries,” Wu said.
Asked if that meant that as lieutenant governor, he could end up investigating Cuomo, Wu said: “That’s true.”
Despite Wu’s big ambitions and a loyal following on social media, it was also clear that Wu was a first-time candidate.
For example, instead of spending the full Friday before the primary meeting voters, he instead spent the afternoon pushing a lawsuit – which went nowhere – aimed at stopping the State Democratic Committee from spending money on the race.
And perhaps most notable, he showed a profound lack of knowledge of upstate New York in an interview with The Buffalo News.
He blew six of the eight questions The News asked him about the region. For example, he could not identify HarborCenter. He could not name the state’s largest military installation. And he could not identify the “garbage plate,” Rochester’s signature ode to caloric excess.
”I should have known the garbage plate because I’d seen it before,” he conceded Tuesday. “If I were to win, the first thing I’d do is go to Rochester and eat a garbage plate.”
Cuomo and Hochul will face off in November against Republicans Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, and Chris Moss, the Chemung County sheriff and Astorino’s choice for lieutenant governor.
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