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Hochul keeps her ear to the ground

Four months into her new job as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, you don't hear Kathy Hochul complaining about her super-hectic schedule.

She seems to thrive on the pace, even expressing thanks for the one afternoon she was able to officially spend with her husband -- U.S. Attorney Bill Hochul -- during recent 9/1 1 commemorations.

"What I love about this is that it has been so intellectually stimulating," she said, ticking off a list of major issues coming across her Capitol desk since her May 24 election.

Over a cup of coffee last week, Hochul reflected on the politics that brought her to Washington and the politics now driving the country. She gently jabbed at The Buffalo News for noting her constant campaign mode, even though that's what the successful pols do.

Successful pols are also adept at feeling the pulse of their constituents; of recognizing what works and what doesn't.

That's why Hochul a few days ago was eager to accept the invitation of her former opponent -- anti-free trade crusader Jack Davis -- to visit his Newstead manufacturing facility and promise to vote against free trade pacts proposed for Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

"I told the White House liaison a couple of months ago -- don't bring any delegations from these other countries to my office," she said. "You'll be wasting my time." Hochul noted that part of the jobs creation bill President Obama has sent to Congress includes new free trade agreements. She supports the overall concept, but is part of a significant Democratic cadre expressing reservations over the proposal.

Concentrating on rebuilding crumbling infrastructure is the "smart way" to go, she says, but she also recognizes criticism of the last stimulus effort. In a subtle shot at County Executive Chris Collins, she said a new bill should prohibit municipalities from "hoarding it to help their bottom line."

"$80 million?" she asked. "Picture that for jobs in Erie County; that's the intended result. Clearly, we need to make it much tighter this time."

Hochul senses that Davis hit on something when he railed against free trade during four campaigns for Congress. But she also grasped that campaigning against the Paul Ryan budget and GOP plans to overhaul Medicare worked last spring -- even in the Republican-dominated 26th District.

So it was no surprise a few days ago when Washington reporters swamped her in the Capitol halls following Republican Bob Turner's congressional victory over Assemblyman David Weprin in New York City. How, they asked her, could a Republican win in such an overwhelmingly Democratic district when she triumphed in GOP territory just four months earlier? Obama's approach toward Israel may have hurt Weprin, she says, but so did the assemblyman's vote favoring same-sex marriage in that district. Others view that situation differently, but Hochul seems to have her ear to the ground in Brooklyn and Queens, too.

If the congresswoman does, indeed, possess a knack for reading her constituents, maybe it stems from the seven town meetings she has already held. Like Republican Tom Reed of Corning (and unlike Democrats Brian Higgins of Buffalo and Louise Slaughter of Fairport), she regularly takes a pulse.

Reed also appears to thrive in his district with a clear tea party approach. But Hochul is fine with her slant on the job.

"If the Republicans went back to the district and heard the same message I have in my Republican district," she says, "they would know the number one priority of all of us is getting people back to work."

This is how Hochul is defining herself. The Republican opposition is watching carefully, and wondering how a year from now, they will counter this Democrat poaching on their turf.