How Kathy Hochul went from surprise governor to clear leader

When Kathy Hochul unexpectedly ascended to the governor’s mansion last August, raised later her predecessor’s sexual harassment scandal, she hardly resembles the kind of political power that New Yorkers are used to – sassy, ​​self-aggrandizing, low and manly.

Many in Gotham’s tight political class immediately attributed an asterisk to her name and predicted that Miss Hochul, a moderate from Buffalo with a penchant for making friends but not headlines, would fight. painting a first battle to keep the job.

Six months later, they could rarely see more wrongly.

Instead, Ms. Hochul began a swift campaign to corner party leaders and weed out potential opponents that worked to the point of ruthlessness. Leveraging the power of her office and her egotistical style, she created a new face for a scandal-ridden state government and built a campaign that has accumulated 21 million dollars in January, more than any of her competitors combined.

The transition from random governor to unquestioned frontrunner will culminate on Thursday as Ms Hochul, 63, is poised to win the Democratic Party’s endorsement for a full term before the election. primaries in June. As Hochul nods as the first woman to lead New York, Hillary Clinton plans to introduce her as the party’s new standard-bearer at a conference in Midtown Manhattan.

“The nomination would be a coronation for her,” said former Governor David A. Paterson, who, like Hochul, said after his predecessor’s scandalous resignation. “It’s amazing when you almost think she’s been there for five years.”

What’s more remarkable is that just a year ago, Ms. Hochul’s political career seemed to have come to an end. Last winter, before Governor Andrew M. Cuomo became mired in sexual harassment allegations, his aides curtly informed Hochul that he planned to remove her from his position as lieutenant. governor when he runs for a fourth term in 2022.

Since then, Ms. Hochul has enjoyed a number of good fortunes: Mr. Cuomo’s swift undoing; a stream of federal money push New York into the dark; and the decision of her most serious primary rival, attorney general Letitia James, give up her campaign to the governor as soon as it was born.

But the story of Mrs. Hochul’s ascension goes beyond chance, and is built about equally in 18 hours a day, shrewd politics, careful fundraising, thorough preparation and relationships. forged during years of quietly traveling the state as a lieutenant colonel governor, according to interviews with nearly 30 political agents, legislators, union leaders, and campaign advisers, who watched her orbit closely.

She did not win over the political class with a particular ideological agenda or new policy vision, to the chagrin of some of her leftist critics, but rather bet that a A nation drained after years of political scandal and a draining pandemic isn’t of particular interest to more drama from Albany.

“What do they say about luck? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” says James Featherstonhaugh, who is attached to Albany’s lobbying scene. “When she became governor, it was not like she came down from the moon. She knows the New York state government as well as anyone.”

Hochul does not seem to like taking a clear ideological stance on some contentious policy disputes, like new limits on rent increases or whether to scale back recent state changes to bail law, seems to be motivated, at least in part, by the desire not to alienate right or left. But it remains unclear whether that consensus-driven approach can ignite the real-world voters she needs to win.

Though polls show her a comfortable lead, Hochul has faced accusations from her main rivals – Representative Tom Suozzi and New York City public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams – that she is confused about issues like crime and housing, or submissive Special hobby sponsors her campaign.

And political strategists say there are signs in the polls and on the grounds that Hochul has yet to generate enthusiasm among the black, Latino and young voters around New York City. York that she may need to assemble a winning general election coalition.

“Enthusiasm means everything,” said Gabby Seay, a labor strategist who served as Ms James’ campaign director. “She has to work to build the rapport that people are exploding about her candidate. The question is will she have time to do that while in charge? ”

Hochul, who declined to be interviewed, told reporters on Tuesday that she intends to “run like an underdog until it’s over” and will make it a priority to inform New Yorkers about policies. his book.

When Mr. Cuomo’s career collapsed last spring and summer, Hochul carefully concealed her aspirations for higher office. But privately, she spent the first half of 2021 Diligently prepare to take charge, the time should come. Representative Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, chairwoman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, said: “She’s not naive.

When the time came, Miss Hochul moved quickly.

Within a few weeks, she overhauled the executive suite, bringing in seasoned women to top positions, weeding out Cuomo loyalists, and pick Brian A. Benjamina Negro state senator from Harlem with deep connections throughout the city, as her lieutenant-colonel governor.

She signed progressive bills that Mr. Cuomo rejected; appeared with his longtime nemesis, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio; invite labor organizers to a private dinner; and impress business leaders with talk about reopening offices and keeping tax rates steady.

“You get the feeling you’re talking to someone who’s really listening to you, not just talking about movements,” says Henry Garrido. executive director of the city’s largest union, Council District 37.

In Albany, legislators are almost playful. After years of humiliation, humiliation and belittlement by Mr. Cuomo, they almost didn’t believe in January that Mrs. Hochul proposed a record level of 216 billion dollars State budget that’s not just funding their priorities, but setting aside $2 billion for pandemic initiatives for lawmakers to help allocate.

“Before Governor Hochul, I said that I had served with eight governors, and they all seemed to use the same training manual,” said Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat in his 52nd year in the association. “Out of the 35 budgets that I have viewed as wellness chairs, this is my best budget.”

Hochul’s task was made much easier by a series of one-time federal investments. When her predecessors faced deficits, Ms. Hochul was able to propose liberal spending on large capital projects, schools and healthcare workers. Each proposal won her plaudits with key constituencies – and helped her solicit campaign donations.

At the same time, Ms. Hochul used every tool at her disposal to engage supporters and campaign donations, raising $250,000 each time. Lawmakers and union leaders, some of whom have known her for years, describe repeated phone calls asking for assistance, leaving them contemplating whether to bet with a sitting governor. , who has the power to include or omit their priorities in the budget.

Initial endorsements by Hazel N. Dukes, head of the New York State division of the NAACP, and Emily’s Lista national fund-raising agency for female candidates advocating abortion rights; has helped create momentum even though the fall has passed, with her campaign releasing new affirmations almost daily .

Emily Giske, a prominent Albany lobbyist, said: “She never stopped working. “You have 24 hours in a day. She has 48”.

Hochul’s strategy is not without its setbacks.

Amid a series of high-profile crimes in New York City, Mr. Suozzi and fellow Republicans criticized the policies of Alvin Bragg, the progressive new district attorney, in Manhattan and criticized Ms. Hochul for not firing him. But some Black leaders felt the governor had gone too far in the other direction, showing too much sympathy for those who targeted Mr. Bragg, the first Black elected to the position, at a time when they felt he was unjustly considered a scapegoat.

“She has work to do,” said Father Al Sharpton. “She sounded like she was going to try to do it. But she has to make sure she doesn’t stray too far from the Democratic Party base.”

Radicals are voicing warnings about Ms Hochul’s reliance on giant donors, concerned that they could shape her policies and her relationship with them could undermine her. She was embroiled in charges of paying to play.

And there are other questions about the durability of Ms Hochul’s approach over time in such dire straits. Dennis Mehiel, a major Democratic donor and former candidate for governor who supported Ms. Hochulsays that governing by force, while unfavorable, has been key to her predecessor’s successes.

Mr. Mehiel said: “Kathy’s approach is one of cooperation and reconciliation, which I welcome. “What we don’t know is whether people can run New York State for the long term without using a sledgehammer.”

But Ms. Hochul warned not to underestimate assertive leadership. The girl has undaunted by fights with healthcare workers and local Republican Party leaders angry about her Covid-related duties.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a longtime ally also well known from outside New York City, said the governor’s “hard as a nail” resilience will reveal itself. But she said it’s not surprising that many in New York, a state that has never elected a woman leader, are still grasping at the roots of Hochul’s power.

“Many women rule differently,” says Ms. Gillibrand. “It’s more about empathy and understanding, listening, closing divisions, healing.”

Katie Glueck contribution report. How Kathy Hochul went from surprise governor to clear leader

Fry Electronics Team

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