In the second and final debate of the Democratic primary race for governor of New York, Governor Kathy Hochul and her two opponents parried on highly volatile issues, including rising crime, shrinking affordable housing, disaster impending environmental crisis – and how they take their bagel.
But lighthearted moments were relatively rare on Thursday, as Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City public attorney, and Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi took their final direct jabs at Ms. Hochul ahead of the June 28 primary contest. .
The hour-long brawl was far from pretty and often downright sour, as Mr Williams and especially Mr Suozzi piled on accusations that the governor was ethically compromised, insufficiently qualified and unwilling or unable to protect new Yorkers.
“Governor? Governor? Governor?” Mr. Suozzi, a centrist from Long Island, eagerly rehearsed during a memorable back-and-forth. He was trying to force Ms. Hochul to look his way after she slammed him for ostensibly condoning Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill (comments he has since retracted), but the exchange summed up the whole evening just as well.
Ms. Hochul just smiled and kept her gaze straight ahead. When she left 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan soon after, there were signs that the Governor had been bruised, but little to suggest that either opponent had succeeded in fundamentally altering the dynamics of ‘a run that now borders on explosion as it enters its final, frenetic stretch.
Still, the debate, hosted by NBC New York, Telemundo 47 and The Times Union of Albany, was often more substantial and divisive than the Democrats’ first debate just over a week ago.
Candidates have fought over housing policy and evictions. Suozzi, who is running on a platform of tax cuts and fighting crime, accused the governor of “irresponsibly” spending federal Covid relief money that has flooded the state, including through through direct payments to help cash-strapped New Yorkers pay their rent.
Ms. Hochul scoffed. “I don’t think spending money on people who might lose their homes is irresponsible,” she said. “I would do it any day of the week.”
Mr Williams, a progressive who favors a broader set of government protections, took the opportunity to argue for so-called good cause eviction legislation that would limit rent increases and make it harder to evict tenants. The governor does not openly support the bill, which New York’s powerful real estate industry opposes.
A similar pattern played out when the candidates discussed high crime rates in New York and a heightened sense of fear among New Yorkers since the pandemic began, particularly on the subway.
Ms. Hochul defended her administration’s efforts — including changes to New York’s bail laws — as a work in progress and touted her work with Mayor Eric Adams to “give people that sense of security.” and protect those with mental health issues.
This time, Mr. Suozzi was not convinced.
“We hear the governor’s rhetoric about ‘we’re spending money on this, we’re going to get there,'” he said. “Under this administration, they are no safer.”
Mr Williams, again, said he would take a more holistic approach than that of Ms Hochul or her predecessors, calling for the construction of “a continuum of care structure for mental health to ensure that people have a home to stay in”.
There were salient differences that emerged.
Asked if she would consider cutting New York’s notoriously high taxes, Ms Hochul touted her decision to endorse a one-time gas tax and property tax cut and promised: ‘We don’t ‘Let’s not raise taxes. Mr. Suozzi said he would cut state income taxes by 10% and reduce property taxes. Mr Williams strongly disagreed, accusing his opponents of repeating ‘a Republican line designed to protect wealthy donors at the expense of people who need help’.
The candidates disagreed on whether they would welcome the support of former Governor Andrew. Mr Cuomo, who resigned last year over allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. Williams said no and Ms. Hochul did everything she could to put extra distance between her and her former boss.
“Although he has a lot of baggage with what he has done, he has accomplished a lot in New York State,” Mr. Suozzi said, answering yes.
When Ms. Hochul and Mr. Suozzi said they were focused on building resilience to the effects of climate change, like flooding and extreme heat, Mr. Williams accused the governor of not doing enough to do advance a congestion pricing plan for motorists in New York. York (she later said she supported the plan) and did not fund New York’s landmark climate law.
“Under a Williams administration, you wouldn’t have to ask for that,” he said.
Polls consistently give Ms. Hochul a comfortable double-digit lead; it spends more on ads in the final weeks of the contest than its main opponents have collected this year collectively; and this week she won the backing of the New York Times editorial board and Mayor Adams, two endorsements that Mr. Suozzi and Mr. Williams had been eagerly hoping for.
On Thursday, Mr Suozzi, an ally of Mr Adams who has been offered a post in his administration, called the endorsement a “political reality” because the governor has “a lot of power right now”.
“They say if you want a friend in politics, get a dog,” he said.
But the candidates still have a wave of campaigning ahead of them, and with turnout expected to be low, political analysts warn the contest could end up being closer than it looks, given the base of support in Mr. Suozzi in suburban Long Island and Mr. Williams’ strong ties to vote-rich Brooklyn.
Early voting in both parties’ primaries begins on Saturday.
The Democratic nominee will face the winner of a four-way Republican race among Representative Lee Zeldin; Rob Astorino, former Westchester County Executive; businessman Harry Wilson; and Andrew Giuliani, son of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Republicans are expected to participate in a final debate next week.
On Thursday, however, the Democrats saw fit to keep fighting.
With the nation – and Buffalo – reeling from a series of mass shootings, Mr. Williams and Mr. Suozzi have repeatedly attacked Ms. Hochul for accepting support from the National Rifle Association when she was a candidate for Congress. ten years ago. Ms Hochul took umbrage at the “attacks” and said her decision to sign a series of new gun safety measures into state law this month was proof that she had moved on.
“It’s not an attack, Governor, it’s the fact: you have been approved by the NRA,” Mr Suozzi said. “I know you want to get rid of it.”
Ms Hochul was unhappy: ‘Excuse me, it’s my turn to answer the question,’ she said, then added, ‘Please stop interrupting me’ .
Towards the end of the night, after Mr. Suozzi hit out at the governor for choosing a lieutenant governor later charged with corruption, Ms. Hochul tried to turn the tables and attack Mr. Suozzi for a congressional ethics investigation. on its stock market transactions.
“The word hypocrisy comes to mind,” she said. Mr. Suozzi downplayed the investigation as nothing more than late-filed documents.
Mr Williams also found himself under scrutiny at one point when Melissa Russo, one of the moderators, pressed him about his own political evolution on two issues of Democratic orthodoxy: abortion and same-sex marriage.
Mr Williams said his stance on abortion had not changed but was now trying to ‘focus on those most affected’.
“There’s a difference between saying something bad and still working, as I have, to make sure the LGBT community has the rights they need and making sure women and pregnant women have abortion rights and actively working against New Yorkers and actively working with the NRA,” he said.
Moderators tried to end the evening on lighter fare, but even over their favorite circular chow, Mr. Williams, Mr. Suozzi and Ms. Hochul found themselves hopelessly at odds.
“When I was younger, my mother always gave me a bagel with lox, cream cheese onions and capers,” Mr Williams said of his favorite order.
Mr. Suozzi kept things simple – poppyseed bagel and tuna – especially compared to the Governor.
“I have a sweet tooth, everyone knows that,” she said. “It will be a cinnamon raisin with whatever sweet cream cheese they put on it, usually maple syrup.”