ALBANY – Kathy Hochul, the state lieutenant governor who has logged tens of thousands of miles promoting Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his policies, again is facing questions about her political future after the governor recently promoted her as an ideal candidate to run for Congress.
That’s not sitting well with some who, like Hochul, are female and members of the Democratic Party who have fought to ascend the male-dominated political clubhouse in New York.
Some of them are saying Hochul already has made her intentions known publicly and privately that she wants to run again for lieutenant governor. So, as more than one Democrat asked, why is the only statewide elected official who is a woman being left hanging?
“I like Kathy Hochul very much," said veteran Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, who has campaigned with Hochul and hosted her on multiple trips to her district that includes neighborhoods like Greenwich Village.
“I think she’s been a great lieutenant governor and I would hope any of these grumblings that she might not continue on the ticket are just that: rumors and without substance," Glick, a member of the Assembly since 1991, said in an interview outside the Assembly chamber last week.
“I support her 100 percent. I think she’s doing a great job. I wish I knew what is behind this discussion," Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Democrat who has represented the Binghamton area in the Legislature for more than 13 years.
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, said she was with Hochul at an event Thursday night and the lieutenant governor made clear – as she’s been trying to do for months – that she is running for re-election. “I don’t understand why there is all this chatter," Peoples-Stokes said.
To try to help put an end to it, Peoples-Stokes said she is getting together a group of Democratic women – “and perhaps even some male colleagues of mine” – to hold a formal endorsement gathering of Hochul in Albany in the next two weeks. “She is running and she should be running. She’s done a fabulous job," Peoples-Stokes said.
Hochul, meanwhile, has turned down interview requests about the political speculation. A spokeswoman has said only that nothing has changed in Hochul’s view that she is seeking re-election.
On Friday, the Cuomo campaign issued a statement praising Hochul. "As we've previously said, the governor supports Kathy in whatever she decides. She has been a strong partner and tremendous advocate for New York over the last four years and nothing has changed,'' said Abbey Fashouer, a Cuomo spokeswoman.
Hochul has stated her intentions
For months, Hochul has been stressing she has no interest in running for Congress, as some have urged, and has been focused only on running for a second term as lieutenant governor. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in New York run independently in primaries. Cuomo's endorsement – or lack of an endorsement – will have an impact.
In January, Hochul invited a Buffalo News reporter to her Capitol office to spell out her interest in the position – in precise terms. Hochul said she expected to make a formal announcement with Cuomo of their campaign down the road. That formal announcement has not happened.
In February, though, Cuomo told reporters on Long Island that Hochul has been a “great lieutenant governor and I would very much like her to be on the ticket.
But the talk started flowing again deep within the Democratic Party over the past few weeks. It was based partly on a theory that Cuomo wanted to bolster his outreach to liberal voters, especially in New York City, and that perhaps Hochul was not going to help him do that. The speculation spread since activist Cynthia Nixon launched her gubernatorial campaign with a theme, in part, that pegs Cuomo’s progressive credentials as lackluster.
Then Cuomo's Buffalo trip happened. On April 19, Cuomo stopped in town to tout his record and some items in the new state budget. After, reporters got in a handful of questions to Cuomo. All were about Hochul. When it was done, the governor’s answers served to propel speculation about Hochul’s future.
Repeatedly, Cuomo that day said Hochul would be the strongest Democrat to run against incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who would be a prized target for state and national Democrats to defeat this fall. Cuomo conceded Hochul had no interest in running, however, and so the point was moot.
“It’s all flattery for Kathy," Cuomo said of the interest in her running for Congress.
Cuomo was asked more than once if he was committed to having Hochul – the sole woman and sole upstate resident in a statewide office – on his re-election ticket. “I said to Kathy ‘If you want to run I support that; if you don’t want to run, I support that,' " Cuomo said.
The governor’s comments spread quickly within Democratic circles.
People who know the lieutenant governor say she is not keen about the situation. Hochul, though, has sought to publicly avoid discussing the matter the past couple of weeks. After the Cuomo visit to Buffalo, she declined to be interviewed and has turned down subsequent interview requests.
The filing deadline for a Democratic congressional primary has already passed and Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray is already running on the Democratic line. However, there are still maneuvers that can be done, remote as they are, for Hochul to challenge Collins.
Hochul has rejected congressional bid
The point, her allies say, is she doesn’t want to run for Congress.
Democrats say Hochul is careful not to take actions that might make it appear she is angling behind the scenes to pressure Cuomo. Hochul has not, Democrats say, asked supporters, such as elected Democratic officials who are female, to speak out on her behalf.
Asked about that, Lupardo, the Binghamton-area Democrat, said: “She doesn’t need to reach out for help. She’s in our districts all the time … She knows we’re there for her, whatever she needs."
The Buffalo News last week sought the opinions on Hochul’s situation from Democratic women in the Legislature. Their reaction varied little.
“I think very highly of her. I would hope it’s her decision as to what to do," said Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat.
The whispers about a possible Hochul replacement have included several possibilities. One, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, recently said she is not interested. A Bronx councilman, Ritchie Torres, also has been floated in some quarters.
Fahy said it would be a “huge disappointment to me and many others” if Cuomo jettisoned Hochul for a male running mate. “I think she has such a fundamental grasp of what it’s like to have moved up the chain and yet be very grounded … I think she speaks so well when she talks about issues that working families care about," Fahy said of Hochul.
In Hochul’s home county of Erie, the questions swirling about her future as lieutenant governor have been the subject of many discussions. Several Democrats noted her ability to help keep the region on the minds of officials in Albany.
“She inspires women and young girls to get involved in politics. I’ve seen her inspire crowds of women to run for office. I know she was an inspiration to me," said Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, a Lancaster Democrat who is serving in her first term.
“I think she’s doing a phenomenal job as lieutenant governor so, honestly, if that’s what she wants to continue doing she’s an absolute asset for our community," Wallace added.
Democrats meet in May to select ticket
Hank Skeinkopf, a veteran Democratic Party consultant whose clients have included Cuomo, said Hochul is a strong politician and a party loyalist with vote-getting abilities. But he said Democratic Party officials are trying to determine if she could add more to Cuomo’s campaign or to increase the uphill odds the party might have to defeat Collins.
“That’s the unfortunate position she finds herself in," Sheinkopf said.
The consultant said he expects the Hochul chatter to intensify as the party’s convention gets closer in late May.
Democrats say the Nixon campaign is nudging Cuomo more and more to the left – a claim Cuomo allies dismiss. At the same time, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been at odds with Cuomo, is expected to use his political influence to drive up Nixon’s support in the city. That has left some Democrats asking if Hochul provides enough help with Cuomo’s downstate equation.
“Might it be helpful for him to have an African-American woman from New York City on the ticket? Well, yes, that probably would be because Cuomo’s real foe is Bill de Blasio, who will figure out a way to get votes for Cynthia Nixon," Sheinkopf said.
“But the risk is if he dumps Hochul, what does that do to his standing in western and west central New York? What do people think? And that’s the gamble."
The situation has attracted criticism from Nixon, who recently won the endorsement of the small but influential Working Families Party. That party’s leaders also earlier this month backed New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams in his bid against Hochul. Williams is seeking to challenge Hochul in a Democratic primary and had a planned campaign stop in Buffalo on Saturday.
“Kathy Hochul has been very loyal to Andrew Cuomo and I am frankly shocked that he seems so anxious to divest himself of her," Nixon told a Buffalo News reporter during her visit to Buffalo last week.