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COMMENTARY

Bob McCarthy: Wow, it's a lieutenant governor's race

This year’s primary for lieutenant governor could rank as the most fascinating election you never heard of.

Wait a minute. A barn-burning contest for the second spot?

Make an exception for the Democratic matchup between incumbent Kathy Hochul and challenger Jumaane Williams. That’s because Williams, a New York City councilman from Brooklyn, enters the race backed by millions of city voters familiar with his name. His mere Brooklyn address makes him a powerful contender.

Buffalo’s Hochul, meanwhile, doesn’t exactly hail from Podunk. But she cannot bring to the table the numbers that make Williams’ candidacy a legitimate threat.

All of this stems from the state’s quirky election laws that allow LG primaries, but then require the governor and lieutenant governor candidates to run as a ticket in the November general.

Now Hochul is forced to ratchet up even more the hyper-hectic pace she already maintains. She has taken the unusual step of raising money for her own lieutenant governor campaign, and her report of $1.2 million on hand in last week’s campaign finance filings indicates she takes seriously the councilman and his Brooklyn numbers.

Williams, meanwhile, had trouble playing by the campaign finance rules and was late filing reports listing only $46,000 on hand.

Other factors are playing here. Hochul has garnered support from giant (and traditional) sources like the state AFL-CIO. But last week’s little-noticed endorsement of Williams by the Brooklyn Young Democrats introduces the “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez syndrome.” She is the “socialist Democrat” who energized progressive voters in Queens and the Bronx last month to knock off party stalwart Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary for the House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez and others like her represent a whole new dynamic within the party that may or may not spill over into the race for lieutenant governor.

“Young New Yorkers are rejecting the current Democratic establishment because we’re no longer going to accept a system that isn’t working for us,” state Young Democrats President John Wasserman said.

All of this also explains the April efforts among supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo to slide Hochul off the ticket into a congressional contest. They can count, too.

But Hochul short-stopped that attempt and continues as one of New York’s best retail pols. It remains to be seen whether that is enough to counter Williams and his numbers.

• • •

• Another contest fascinating the Politics Column remains the Assembly election pitting Democrat Pat Burke against Erik Bohen, a Democrat running on the Republican and Conservative lines who prevailed in an April 24 special election. Now Bohen is following the “Mickey Kearns Method” and keeping his Democratic registration while running as a Republican and opting against the September Democratic primary. That strategy worked for Kearns through several Assembly elections and his race for county clerk in 2017.

But Kearns eventually caucused with the Democrats, while Bohen has yet to make that commitment. For now, he says he must win an election before he decides between Dems and Repubs and ending his isolation in “no man’s land” on the Assembly floor.

“Right now, I’m not sure I would do that,” he said of continuing his earlier promise to seek entry into the Democratic conference. He labels GOP membership “a possibility.”

Doesn’t he owe some commitment to voters of the 142nd District?”

“They should want an independent voice in the State Assembly,” he says.

Look to hear much of this theme in the Bohen-Burke showdown.

• Here’s a novel idea: a candidate for governor actually interacting with voters. GOP candidate Marc Molinaro will stage a “town meeting” on July 31 at Cheektowaga’s Leonard Post, as part of several similar events around the state.

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