IF YOU WERE GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL, what would you be doing to win a full term in office? After all, you have a great deal going for you now. You’re a woman in the year of the women.
You’re an incumbent, which counts for a lot, although David Paterson, the last politician who succeeded an in-trouble governor (Eliot Spitzer) found himself unable to run for a full term. Ironically, it was then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who made sure that he would be the next governor at Paterson’s political expense. Of course, David Paterson had a pretty messy plate before him, as he made clear to everyone and it wasn’t that hard for hero-apparent Cuomo to grab the marbles.
Paterson was Black and an important player who may have been picked as lieutenant governor to balance the ticket he ran on. Likewise, Hochul was undoubtedly picked because she added a great deal of balance to the Cuomo gubernatorial ticket as a woman and an upstater. We all know that then Governor Cuomo wanted her off the ticket in the last gubernatorial election. She said no and prevailed. It is not easy to be the lieutenant to a man like Cuomo. The predecessor to Hochul quit. Since being lieutenant governor or Vice President puts you a heartbeat away from the top job, it is a very sensitive game. I suspect that if Cuomo hadn’t been run out of office, the chance of Hochul acceding to the governorship might well have been nil. But, hey, in this life you roll the dice—sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Now I am hearing from some of the top political players, all of whom appear to have lined up to support Hochul. They ain’t dumb. They ditched Cuomo and they want to be sure that their credentials are locked solid with Hochul. That’s the way of inside politics. But you had better believe that Hochul’s nomination for a full term is hardly locked up. The politicians who are vocally supporting her must be sweating. If some “outsider” gets elected and they were found to have supported Hochul, they will not have the inside advantage that they thought they had.
When I speak to these important pols on the radio and ask them if they are supporting Hochul, I get some form of “humma-humma-humma.” Suppose, for example, Letitia James wins the nomination with her very strong credentials. What if Thomas DiNapoli, the powerful and quite accomplished state comptroller, whom I so admire, wins the nomination after having done such a remarkable job for the people of New York State? DiNapoli’s biggest risk is that he is not a revenging sort and on-the-make politicians will not have to worry as much about getting into trouble with him. So far, the pro-Hochul ranks have closed, mostly among all those who spent so much time “getting” Cuomo.
Politicians are pretty predictable. They claim to be fiercely independent, but they are hardly that. They take orders from the heads of their political conferences, they raise money, the mother’s milk of politics, from people who want something from them, and as a group they are immensely unpopular with the voters.
So much is at stake in their almost uniform endorsement of Hochul that at least the smartest of them must be a bit worried. For her part, the new governor must know that the risk of this all going south is very high. Right now, the lower political ranks are playing it safe. But once the big guns come into the race, there will be defections. Hochul will try to play the big game and do what’s politically popular and she has made some very smart moves. I haven’t seen any mistakes, but an awful lot of people have no idea who she is. One thing she has going for her is that the Republicans keep putting up schlemiels.