ALBANY – Since the term “incoming governor” began appearing before her name over the past week, Kathy Hochul is finding something else new about her next job: It really brings in the campaign dollars.
The lieutenant governor, a Buffalo resident, is scheduled to appear Wednesday at Fontana’s Grove in West Seneca for a political fundraiser to bring in cash for what she said will be her campaign next year for a full, four-year term as governor.
When Hochul served as deputy county clerk and, in 2007, became Erie County clerk, she had a reputation as a leader focused on customer service. But not everything she did was considered a success.
The fundraiser will come one day after she began building bridges with key politicians in New York City and is another sign that Hochul intends to do everything she can to lead the state for at least five and a half years and not become a glorified seat-filler between elected governors.
Her stops Tuesday in the state's largest city included a meeting with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who spoke effusively of Hochul while barely concealing his glee at the downfall of his rival, soon-to-be-former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
“We have seen so many bad things in Albany, so many troubling things, and it’s going to take a huge amount of change. So, I’m really hopeful that she can help set a new tone," de Blasio said.
When word Cuomo’s impending resignation was made public last week, interest in the Hochul fundraiser spiked so high that organizers had to find a bigger location than the original site at Resurgence Brewery in Buffalo.
“It’s just gotten huge over the past couple of weeks," said Jeremy Zellner, the Erie County Democratic Party chairman whose organization is working with Hochul’s campaign to help fill the politically lucrative gathering.
Zellner said he’s gotten messages from people living out of state who want to come and donors are flying in from New York City to attend Hochul’s first coming-out campaign fundraiser event since Cuomo announced his resignation.
The Hochul campaign did not respond to questions about the event.
While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, for a fourth straight day, would not publicly say Monday when Cuomo will depart his job, Hochul's officials said they have now officially been told of the embattled Cuomo’s exit: next Monday at 11:59 p.m.
The price for admission starts at $50, but it rises sharply to above $1,000 per person, depending on how deep one’s pockets are and how much one-on-one time might be available with Hochul.
On Tuesday, Hochul, who has promised a more collaborative administration than Cuomo's, sought to carry through with that vow: She met, in private, with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who has been bitter political enemies with Cuomo for years.
Before the meeting, de Blasio told reporters he wanted to speak with Hochul about everything from Covid-19 response efforts, reopening of public schools and a stalled state plan to introduce a congestion pricing program for motorists entering parts of Manhattan as a way to relieve traffic woes and raise funds for public transit.
“We have a lot to do. I’m really looking forward to meeting with Lt. Gov. Hochul. Look, I think we’ll be able to work well together. We’ve already spoken. … I think we’re going to be able to do a lot of good work," the mayor said.
Cuomo, who is resigning under the weight of sexual harassment and other scandals, has openly been at war with de Blasio for years. On Tuesday, de Blasio talked before his Hochul meeting to note that she is “an open person,” a “decent person” and “a thoughtful person.”
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and her husband Bill Hochul visited the Erie County Fair in Hamburg on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
As for Cuomo, the mayor said “he is not normal” and that his style to “bully and harass people all day long” will end with his resignation at 11:59 p.m. Monday. He said he looks forward to getting back to “something approximating normalcy and just have elected officials work together and address the issues.”
After their meeting, Hochul and de Blasio issued a brief, joint statement that said their talks on various issues were "productive" and that they "look forward to working with each other to continue New York City's recovery and end the fight against Covid."
Hochul also met privately to talk with officials, teachers and some parents about the reopening of the New York City school system.
Later, she also met privately with New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who tried to oust Hochul in the lieutenant governor’s Democratic primary in 2018.
Hochul and Williams released a joint statement Tuesday night, saying they had an “important dialogue” about various issues related to Covid-19, rising gun violence, a relief plan for renters affected by the pandemic and a Covid-19-related funding program for migrants who are in the country illegally.
“We look forward to working together, upstate and downstate, to help New Yorkers recover from this pandemic and renew New York City," the two Democrats said Tuesday night.
The meeting between Hochul and Williams had many Democratic insiders talking about its significance. Williams has not ruled out a run for governor in 2022. A number of Democrats have been eyeing that race and Hochul, soon after Cuomo resigned, made certain to publicly state that she will be running next year for a full term.
William Hochul will remain in his job as an executive with Delaware North, the Buffalo-based concessions and gambling giant, even after his wife becomes governor.
Hochul, who resides in Buffalo with her husband, William Hochul, a top Delaware North executive, will see a major influx of cash to her campaign account after the Wednesday evening fundraiser. Fontana's, near the border of Cheektowaga and Buffalo, can accommodate about 1,500 people.
A Hochul campaign spokeswoman did not say how many are expected. The names of campaign donors and amounts won’t be fully revealed until January when the next campaign filing is due from her political committee at the state elections board.
The fundraiser in West Seneca was being billed as a birthday celebration for Hochul, who this month turns 63. Like Cuomo, Hochul has timed fundraisers in the past to her birthday.
In an “off-cycle” campaign finance filing dated Aug. 14, Hochul reported a campaign balance of $1,756,884.
Cuomo, in July, reported having $18,256,899 left in his campaign war chest. He can use that money in any assorted ways, such as for legal defense fees, charitable donations, vaguely defined political costs or even to run again for office if he so tries.