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Hochul 'prohibitive favorite' to win June primary

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul outlines her state budget proposal on Jan. 18, 2022.
Mike Groll
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul outlines her state budget proposal on Jan. 18, 2022.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is having a very good week.

“Today, positive COVID cases are at 22,312, down 75% from our peak of 90,132 on Jan. 7,” Hochul said Tuesday as she gave her first state budget address.

That budget -- chock full of spending proposals for nearly every segment of New York’s society -- was widely received as positive by groups ranging from the teachers union to local government leaders to the state’s Business Council.

Due to a surplus from higher-than-expected tax collections and well as record pandemic-related federal aid packages, the governor was able to propose billions more in health care and education spending. She also would like to enact property tax breaks and grants to struggling small businesses.

“This is a moment of great possibility,” Hochul said. “A once-in-a-generation chance to consider what is possible for our state.”

And while she was giving her brief and to-the-point virtual address, her campaign was announcing that the governor, in office for just under five months, had raised $21.9 million so far for her election campaign, on par with her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, who was known for having hefty campaign war chests. Cuomo resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Also on Tuesday, a poll from Siena College -- titled “Hochul dominating primary field” -- found that the governor has the backing of 46% of Democrats for the June primary, more than 30 points ahead of her nearest potential challenger.

That potential challenger, former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had the backing of 12% of Democrats, announced a few hours later that he would not be running after all.

“No, I am not going to be running for governor of New York state,” he said in a video shot outside his home in Brooklyn. “But I am going to devote every fiber of my being to fight inequality in the state of New York.”

The other candidates, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi, had support from 11% and 6% of Democrats.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg said Hochul has advanced her standing with voters in a short time frame. Last April, when she was the state’s lieutenant governor, two-thirds of New Yorkers had either never heard of her or did not know enough about her to form an opinion. He said now, while a quarter of New Yorkers still say they haven’t heard enough about the governor to rate her, 60% of Democrats like her and the job she is doing.

“There is no question that with now less than 22 weeks till primary day, that Hochul is the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said that during New York’s executive-driven budget process, which continues until the end of March, Hochul has the levers of government at her disposal -- and so far, a good relationship with the Legislature. And he said her large campaign account is nearly impossible for her opponents to match.

“She really is in the catbird’s seat as we head toward the primary,” he said.

But Greenberg said there are events that could turn the governor’s fortunes, including yet another wave of COVID-19, discontent with pandemic-related mandates, a natural disaster, or some other unforeseen occurrence.

Also, the poll shows that while voters like Hochul, they aren’t convinced she can meet her stated goals, including restoring trust in government and making communities safer from crime.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.