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In debate, Hochul takes on her two Democratic primary opponents

new york state capitol at night
Matt Ryan
New York NOW
The New York state Capitol building at night.

Gov. Kathy Hochul defended her record against her two primary opponents in a debate held Tuesday night on WCBS-TV, and CBS Newsradio 880, where topics ranged from abortion rights to cryptocurrency mining.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is running to the left of Hochul, and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi, a moderate Democrat to the right of the governor, ganged up to attack Hochul on the rising crime rates and a deal she struck to keep the Buffalo Bills playing in western New York.

Both brought up Hochul’s “A” rating from the NRA a decade ago when she was in Congress.

“Ten years ago, I wrote my first report on how to deal with gun violence while the governor was touting her ‘A’ rating from the NRA,” Williams said. “I wish we’d had her support so that during that decade of death we could have gotten farther then where we are today.”

Hochul has said her views on gun control have evolved. She signed 10 gun safety measures into law on Monday, including raising the legal age for buying a semi-automatic rifle to 21.

“We got so much done that had been hampered and unfulfilled for a decade,” Hochul said. “To protect New Yorkers, whether it is from gun violence in grocery stores or on the streets of Brooklyn or the Bronx or Harlem.”

Suozzi, who said he has an “F” rating from the NRA, criticized Hochul for supporting the state’s bail reform laws, which the governor and Legislature revised in April to make more crimes bail-eligible. Suozzi said he wants to allow judges to apply a dangerousness standard when deciding whether to hold defendants before trial.

Suozzi also attacked Hochul’s deal to keep the Buffalo Bills in western New York, saying she authorized over $1 billion in taxpayer funds to subsidize the NFL team.

“That’s the biggest giveaway taxpayer giveaway in the history of the NFL,” Suozzi said. “And even worse, it was announced four days before the budget was due.”

Williams also criticized the plan for the stadium, which will be built in the suburbs, as not doing enough for people in Black and brown communities.

Both raised questions about a potential conflict of interest between Hochul and her husband, William Hochul, who is the general counsel at the hospitality company Delaware North. It runs the concession stands at the current Bills stadium.

Hochul said the new stadium’s revenues will more than pay for the state and local government subsidies. And she said she and her husband, who was the former U.S. Attorney for Western New York during President Barack Obama’s tenure, keep their business and political interests separate.

“We’ve had to always have a separation between our responsibilities,” Hochul said. “I’m proud of his work. His ethics are second to none, as are mine.”

There were some areas of agreement. All believe that a pregnant person’s right to choose abortion needs to be strongly protected, in an era where the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade. And in a lightning round of questions, all three said they believe in some form of ghosts and the existence of the spirit world.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.