Will Kathy Hochul’s low-key primary come at a cost? Allies fear Yes.
Charles B. Rangel, the longtime dean of Harlem politics, posed a candid question to two of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s top political aides in a private meeting last month: Where’s the campaign?
Rangel told campaign officials they fear the governor is recklessly leaving vote-rich black and Latino neighborhoods unchecked. No posters, no palm cards, no subway surrogates or other ground operations typically used to drive voters to the polls for the June 28 primary for governor of New York.
“There was absolutely no one who knew anyone who was doing anything,” Rangel recalled recently. “There was absolutely no action in the district.
Representative Gregory W. Meeks, the leader of the Queens Democratic machine, shared similar concerns around the same time. On a call with Ms. Hochul, he urged her to pay more attention to communities like hers and build a more diverse political operation that could excite voters.
And more recently, three top labor leaders backing Ms Hochul who spoke to The New York Times said they were puzzled that the governor’s team had not asked for help soliciting, rallying or carrying out other political races demanded by his predecessors. One of them stated categorically that he had seen no evidence of electoral activity.
By all accounts, Ms. Hochul is heading for a comfortable primary victory. She has cornered almost every major political endorsement and collected record donations, while spending her opponents, Thomas R. Suozzi and Jumaane D. Williams, millions of dollars in television and digital advertising.
Dominant leadership allowed Ms. Hochul’s team to deploy a so-called Rose Garden strategy, eschewing the kind of all-out, pitch-and-grab campaign used by her challengers in an effort to save money and position a new governor. herself to New Yorkers above the political fray ahead of a grueling general election this fall.
Most of the political appearances she’s made this spring — at black churches or parades, for example — have been at official government events or non-publicized appearances. In the past month, his campaign has only reported five official events to the media.
In interviews over the past week, a wide range of Democratic lawmakers, party leaders and strategists have expressed concern that the governor’s low-key approach could come at the expense of building a an old-fashioned political field game and an enthusiasm with the bedrock of black, Latino and union voters that a relatively untested Western New York candidate like Ms. Hochul will have to lead Democratic voters to the polls in November.
They fear the governor’s campaign strategy could frustrate Democratic participation in the state’s largest liberal stronghold, leaving Democrats in key congressional and state races vulnerable, even endangering the sway of the state. party on the governor’s mansion.
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“She’s not from New York, she’s from Buffalo,” Mr. Meeks said in an interview, suggesting that Ms. Hochul needed to “move very aggressively” to expand a team currently led by top advisers across North America. New York State, Colorado, Washington. , DC and North Carolina, bringing more labor, business and non-white voices to the table.
“She recognized that many people in her campaign have been across the state but are not necessarily endemic to New York politics, which is important,” he added. “When you run for governor, you have to broaden that base. She does.
And although Ms Hochul looks set to win the primary, Democratic strategists have warned that low primary turnout could hurt her running mate, Antonio Delgado, who is in closer competition against Ana María Archila and Diana Reyna. and potentially put Ms. Hochul in the saddle. with an opposing running mate in the fall.
“Everyone is scratching their heads. She hasn’t organized any rallies and she has to vote,” said George Arzt, a Democratic strategist who has campaigned in New York since the 1980s. “The person who is in danger is not her, but her running mate. “
Tyquana Henderson-Rivers, a senior adviser to Ms Hochul with close ties to New York Democrats, defended the governor’s approach in an interview, acknowledging that the campaign was taking a “slower build” approach that some elected officials could be used to. But he has his reasons.
This is the first year that New York’s primary for governor has been held in June, rather than September, extending the campaign season between the primary and the general election. The pandemic still makes some in-person campaign tactics difficult. And Ms. Hochul’s team is consciously conserving resources to prepare for a greater general election threat than her Democratic predecessors have faced in years.
“We hear you,” Ms Henderson-Rivers said, when asked about her fellow Democrats’ concerns about the campaign, before adding that Ms Hochul’s operation would buzz when it counted. “It won’t be cold, I assure you. We are going in circles.
To be certain, there are signs that the governor’s campaign is heating up.
Ms. Hochul attended a breakfast hosted by Mr. Meeks in southeast Queens with more than 200 clergy and civic leaders in mid-June. Rangel credited the Hochul campaign with increasing its presence in Harlem, where dozens of volunteers and paid staff, including from the Hospitality and Gaming Trades Council, fanned out last weekend to knock on doors and distribute literature.
A campaign spokesman, Jerrell Harvey, said paid media and Ms. Hochul’s grassroots program “will reach voters where they are and benefit all Democrats now and in November.”
The campaign says it has spent more than $13 million on TV and radio so far, more than $1 million more on digital advertising, and the state party has targeted more than 400 000 homes with traditional mail, many of which are African American, Latino and Asian. – numbers far higher than any of its rivals.
“If I were the Democrats, I’d be worried about a lot of things in November,” said Jason Ortiz, a veteran political operative with close ties to the hotel and casino union. “But Kathy Hochul being governor wouldn’t be one.”
And yet, questioning of Ms. Hochul’s approach has been relatively common. Some of the governor’s supporters quietly draw comparisons to his predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, a ruthless political tactician who deployed labor unions, political surrogates and exercised the governor’s office to make big margins.
Mr Cuomo has made particular use of unions, using them as de facto political staff, deploying union members to track opponents, knock on doors and build momentum around his campaign.
Ms. Hochul, with few exceptions, has so far largely limited her requests to monetary donations. Some of the unions, who requested anonymity to avoid alienating Ms Hochul, said they planned to launch efforts to get the vote out of their own accord.
“It’s an unusual approach for a governor, but I think it’s a strategic approach that may prove better in the city than you might expect,” said Henry Garrido, executive director of the more big public union in the city, District Council 37. “Normally what would happen, we have a model where you try to get as much momentum through physical presence, showing up everywhere, rallying and speaking.
Instead, Mr. Garrido said, the governor had asked for his help during calmer events in the Latino communities of Inwood and the Bronx. He predicted that they would play in his favor.
Unlike Mr. Cuomo, Ms. Hochul has tended to avoid the political spotlight for many more overtly political events, such as a Monday stop at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, choosing not to announce them publicly in advance. .
“She walked the streets with me,” said Representative Adriano Espaillat, who represents Mr. Rangel’s former neighborhood. Mr Espaillat tweeted about the events, but he said Ms. Hochul’s decision not to broadcast them widely was his prerogative: “They’re doing what they think is best.”
In central Brooklyn, home to another large bloc of black voters whose votes help win Democratic coalitions power, Ms. Hochul appears to still have some work to do to win over two powerful leaders who could help galvanize votes: Letitia James, the popular New York lawyer. general who briefly ran against her, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries.
Mr. Jeffries has officially endorsed Ms. Hochul (Ms. James has not), but he has yet to campaign with her and has told associates he is disappointed that Ms. Hochul has not come out against it. a court-imposed congressional redistricting plan that has taken its toll. on certain communities of color and the state delegation in Washington.
When asked if he thought Ms. Hochul was doing enough in New York’s communities of color, Mr. Jeffries said he had no comment. Ms James’ campaign also declined to comment when asked if she expected to make an endorsement in the race.
Democratic officials and campaign strategists from Latino strongholds in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx shared their own concerns.
Luis A. Miranda Jr., founding partner of the MirRam Group, a political consulting firm that works on Ms. James’ re-election campaign, said he came away from a recent dinner with Ms. Hochul impressed with both the governor and a new “Nueva York” initiative of state Democratic Party leaders dedicated to eliminating Latinos. But he said the governor and his team had more to do to persuade Latino voters and leaders, some of whom questioned Mr. Delgado’s claim to Afro-Latino roots.
“Where she needs to do the job is not exclusively with her campaign, it’s with the Democratic Party which should serve her and her ticket,” he said. “Everyone thinks that if they hire three people and have a slogan, they reach the community. It’s window dressing.
For his part, Mr Meeks said he was confident Ms Hochul understood the seriousness of the course correction and would generate a strong performance in her part of Queens. But given the stakes for the party, he said “of course there can be improvement”.
“It’s critical,” he said, recalling memories of Republican Gov. George E. Pataki’s victory in 1994. “The one time we ended up with a Republican governor, I remember very good because turnout was low, especially in the African-American community in New York City.”