As Cuomo Departs, Contenders for Power Begin to Emerge
On Wednesday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his resignation, New York woke up to the prospect of a future without him for the first …
On Wednesday, a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his resignation, New York woke up to the prospect of a future without him for the first time in more than a decade. Across the state, Democrats moved urgently to fill the vacuum created by the absence of a man who spent years seeking to exert total control over their party.
At the State Capitol in Albany, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul held her first news conference as governor-in-waiting, sending a message about the importance of maintaining government continuity. Democrats buzzed in private conversations about whom she might appoint to her team, as she promised “turnover” from Mr. Cuomo’s administration after he resigned in disgrace.
Many people expressed hope for a stronger working relationship between the executive and legislative branches, following a period during which Mr. Cuomo — who never shied away from using intimidation as a tactic — often had toxic or nonexistent relationships with state lawmakers and sought to govern on his own terms instead.
“This is a moment of great opportunity for the executive branch and, frankly, state government to reset,” said State Senator Shelley B. Mayer, a Yonkers Democrat. “Culturally, it’s an opportunity to reset.”
But along with a chance for new beginnings once Mr. Cuomo officially departs in less than two weeks, many Democrats were already focusing much deeper into the calendar.
In New York City, on Long Island and around the state, conversations among donors, activists and party strategists about the governor’s race next year have accelerated, now that it is clear the contest will not involve challenging Mr. Cuomo and his daunting war chest in a primary.
The race begins with Ms. Hochul very likely to seek a full term, and doing so with the notable advantages of incumbency.
She has already brought on two political strategists with significant New York and national experience: Meredith Kelly, who has worked for the state’s two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and has held other high-ranking national political roles; and Trey Nix, a veteran campaign operative who has also served as an official at the Democratic Governors Association. Their hiring underscores Ms. Hochul’s seriousness about running for governor next year.
She is a capable fund-raiser and is certain to attract many new donors as she moves up. She has spent years traveling the state. And now, with Ms. Hochul on the cusp of becoming New York’s first female governor, many Democrats are inclined to give her time to get comfortable in the job, eager to find ways to collaborate and move forward after the chaotic final months of Mr. Cuomo’s tenure.
That hardly means she will clear the field before the primary next year.
“I would suspect that she will take some time to get her footing in the new job, and that other prospective Democratic candidates will not pounce immediately,” said Kathryn Wylde, the head of the Partnership for New York City, an influential business group. “My guess is there will be a big field of potential candidates, and how many actually pull the trigger will depend on how she appears to be doing in the next few months.”
Ms. Hochul, who is generally perceived as a relative moderate, is likely to be scrutinized by potential candidates to both the left and right of her politically, gauging not only her fund-raising strength and accomplishments in office, but also whether, in their view, she is politically in step with the Democratic Party’s base.
There is a long list of politicians who are thought to be considering a run for governor, a group that could ultimately include local, state and federal lawmakers with varying degrees of name recognition and fund-raising prowess.
Some Democrats have suggested that candidates in this year’s New York City mayoral race, including Kathryn Garcia, the runner-up in the party’s primary, and even the city’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio, could explore a run, too. (For his part, Mr. Cuomo strained to protect his legacy and future standing in his resignation speech.)
At the moment, the most significant question in the minds of strategists, donors, political observers and even some potential candidates is whether Letitia James, the attorney general, will run.
“She and now Kathy will be the two people that everyone else is watching, to see how they’re doing and what they’re going to do,” Ms. Wylde said.
Ms. James, whose office issued the searing report that documented allegations of sexual harassment against Mr. Cuomo and ended his governorship, has given no indication that she is planning to run for anything other than re-election. And she has not been known as a prolific fund-raiser.
But her allies believe that given her stature as the first woman of color in New York to hold statewide office — and her ability to appeal to Black voters across the ideological spectrum as well as some white progressives — she has time to assess the landscape and make a decision.
“It’s considered an open seat,” said State Senator John C. Liu, a Queens Democrat. “Obviously that will coalesce at some point, and a great deal depends on what our beloved attorney general wants to do. I hope she runs for governor.”
In the meantime, her supporters are working to keep her options open.
L. Joy Williams, a Democratic strategist and an ally of Ms. James’s, noted that a number of governors, including Mr. Cuomo, had ascended to the job from the attorney general’s office.
“It’s naïve to think she couldn’t do the same, if not with a broader coalition and energy behind her campaign, if she decides to run,” Ms. Williams said.
On the left, Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City public advocate who ran an unsuccessful primary against Ms. Hochul in 2018, has had multiple conversations this year about a possible bid for higher office.
He is thought to be exploring a run for governor and could make an announcement about his intentions in the coming weeks, according to a political adviser to Mr. Williams, who stressed that Mr. Williams was most focused now on a smooth transition for Ms. Hochul.
If Mr. Williams has been open about his belief that Mr. Cuomo needed a primary challenger, there are many other Democrats who were less likely to have challenged the incumbent governor. They may now view the race differently, even as the prospect of running against New York’s first female governor could introduce a new complicating factor.
Several Democratic politicians with deep ties to Long Island, an area that Mr. Cuomo won overwhelmingly in his 2018 primary, are thought to be open to a run.
Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller, has not ruled out a bid. Representative Thomas Suozzi has had calls and meetings about the possibility of a run, though he is focused now on negotiations in Congress over the federal deduction for state and local taxes.
Steven Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, is strongly considering a run for governor next year, according to a person close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations. This person noted that Mr. Bellone had recently hired a high-dollar fund-raiser. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, recently gave $50,000 to Mr. Bellone’s executive campaign, campaign finance records show.
Richard Ravitch, a former lieutenant governor, said he anticipated that Ms. Hochul would offer a significant break from Mr. Cuomo’s often-truculent style, and that whether she succeeds in moving the state forward would be a vital factor in shaping the landscape of the 2022 race.
“Whether or not any other candidate emerges is going to be solely a function of whether or not Kathy Hochul can make a dent in the governance and change the image from what Cuomo created,” he said, adding that he had long believed one of Mr. Cuomo’s challenges was a lack of allies.
“It’s very tough to succeed when you’re in trouble and you have no friends,’’ Mr. Ravitch said. “I think Kathy Hochul will have friends.”