Hochul Locks Up Key Support as Letitia James Begins Statewide Tour
The chairman of the New York State Democratic Party on Monday endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul in next year’s primary race, arguing that a fierce …
The chairman of the New York State Democratic Party on Monday endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul in next year’s primary race, arguing that a fierce multicandidate free-for-all could be damaging to the party — even as several potential contenders take increasingly serious steps toward runs of their own.
Jay Jacobs, the party chairman, said that the endorsement was his own, and not that of the state party. But his announcement was seen as an early effort to coalesce support behind Ms. Hochul, who ascended to the governorship after Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in disgrace.
But Mr. Jacobs’s effort to bring the whole party along is already facing resistance — and he acknowledged as much, as he alluded to the increasing activity surrounding the race.
“From the beginning, I have been urging those interested in looking into running for governor to hold their powder, to wait and allow Governor Hochul to get the job done and to make her mark,” Mr. Jacobs said at a news conference on Long Island. “Unfortunately, over the past few days, it seems that a number of candidates are becoming more anxious.”
Indeed, last week the New York City public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams, launched an exploratory committee; the state attorney general, Letitia James, indicated that she was nearing a final decision on whether to run; and other Democrats, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Representative Thomas Suozzi of Long Island and the Suffolk County executive, Steven Bellone, are also thought to be interested.
“A party torn apart by multiple candidates in multiple primaries for multiple offices will exhaust precious resources, divide us and make us weaker in a year that we need to be at our strongest,” Mr. Jacobs added. “We have a governor that is proving she can do the job and do it with distinction. We have a governor who we know can win against any Republican candidate they put up in the fall.”
The backing of Mr. Jacobs, who is also the chair of the Nassau County Democratic Committee, and another endorsement on Monday from Rich Schaffer, the head of the Suffolk County Democrats, underscore Ms. Hochul’s potential strength on vote-rich Long Island ahead of next year’s Democratic primary.
Yet even as Mr. Jacobs spoke, perhaps Ms. Hochul’s most powerful would-be rival was about 25 miles away, appearing on a stage that, stylistically if not in substance, could have been mistaken for a campaign tableau.
Ms. James was in the South Bronx on Monday morning, kicking off a statewide tour in which “she will begin delivering the first of up to $1.5 billion to combat the opioid epidemic,” her office said, tapping into settlements she negotiated. The tour is run through her government team, and the event was often sober as speakers shared painful stories about how the opioid crisis has ravaged neighborhoods across the city.
“We’re not talking about politics, we’re talking about lives today,” she admonished a reporter who asked about Mr. Jacobs’s endorsement.
Nevertheless, the tour comes as Ms. James and her allies have made clear that she is weighing a run for governor — and so the event, which illustrated Ms. James’s relationships in diverse communities around New York City, took on a fresh layer of significance.
She was flanked by City Council members, Assembly members and state senators, and Representatives Adriano Espaillat and Jamaal Bowman.
“With an event like this, she’s an effective A.G., capturing all those dollars to help our communities,” Mr. Espaillat said in a brief interview after the event. “That means that she would probably be an effective governor.”
“We’ll be taking a look at all the candidates,” he added. “I think she would make a terrific candidate but that’s her choice.”
Questions around whether Ms. James would run and what the rest of the field would look like have stopped some county chairs from joining Mr. Jacobs in making endorsements, though he suggested he expected others to indicate their support in coming days.
“Kathy Hochul’s been doing a great job as governor and I hope she succeeds, but I think things need to play out a little bit more,” said Suzanne Berger, the chair of the Westchester County Democratic Committee. “The attorney general, who has also been a great elected official, needs an opportunity and space to make the best decision for herself and the state as well.”
Other Democrats were openly critical of Mr. Jacobs’s move to intervene in a primary, especially at a relatively early juncture in the race — though there are few other recent points of comparison. Mr. Cuomo was in office for a decade, and before that, party officials asked Gov. David A. Paterson not to seek a full term after he took over from the disgraced former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.
Mr. Williams said in a statement that Mr. Jacobs’s role, “and that of the highest ranking Democratic officials in our state, should be to uplift Democratic candidates, Democratic voters, and democratic values.”
Mr. Williams also noted Mr. Jacobs’s longtime alliance with Mr. Cuomo, who on Monday released yet another statement ripping into the independent investigation into his conduct released by Ms. James’s office. The ex-governor lamented that “this is not New York at her finest.” There has been considerable speculation around whether Mr. Cuomo — whose resignation speech doubled as a defense of his legacy — would seek to put real money into meddling in the race.
Mr. Jacobs said that he had given Mr. Cuomo, among others, a heads-up on the endorsement, a remark that drew some attention on Monday.
“I’m not involved in that, I truly am not,” Ms. Hochul said, when asked about Mr. Jacobs’s decision to engage Mr. Cuomo. “I’m proud to have the support of Jay Jacobs, Rich Schaffer and anyone else who wants to line up behind me, but they know that’s not my focus.”
And asked about Mr. Cuomo’s missive, she replied, “I’m actually too busy governing New York to worry about emails that are written by people.”