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Kathy Hochul makes history (again): Five takeaways from the NY Democratic convention

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul cruised to the state Democratic Party’s designation for governor on Thursday, taking home enough votes from state committee members to prevent her opponents from getting an automatic spot on the June 28th primary ballot.

The New York State Democratic Committee gathered Thursday at the Sheraton in Times Square to formally designate their slate of candidates for the 2022 statewide elections and hear an address from former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Hochul used her acceptance speech to deliver her vision for a fairer, more equal New York, saying the state “will not succeed unless we all succeed.” She also called for a more unified Democratic Party, warning that any further division could embolden Republicans. This year’s primary comes as Democrats brace for potential losses in the congressional midterm elections.

“Make no mistake, we are competitive,” she said. “We like a good fight. And that competitive spirit must be harnessed, but not against fellow Democrats – against the other side, the Republicans.”

The Democratic Committee met in person to nominate the slate of party incumbents throughout the day, including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Attorney General Letitia James, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.

But the headlining event was Hochul’s designation as the party’s preferred gubernatorial candidate, further cementing her status as the favorite to win a full term this November in a heavily Democratic state.

Hochul’s acceptance speech was preceded by an introductory speech by Clinton, who praised the governor’s work ethic and highlighted the historic nature of her candidacy for a full term.

“Isn’t it about time we elect a woman as our governor?” Clinton said to applause.

Here are five takeaways from the day’s festivities:

1. Hochul makes history — again

For the first time in history, a major party committee has nominated a woman to run for New York governor.

Hochul, who already became New York’s first female governor when she took office following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in August, accepted the Democratic gubernatorial designation at around 4 p.m. Thursday.

She delivered a 25-minute speech that served as the de facto kickoff for her election platform, calling it a “new day for New York” and encouraging her fellow Democrats to “rise up” for the issues they believe in.

“I see Democrats who are enlightened, emboldened and empowered to spread the message that New York is back and our party has never been stronger,” she said.

Just as Hochul was delivering a key line in her speech – “I accept your nomination” – demonstrators began shouting her down, leading to a chaotic few minutes as they were escorted out of the hotel ballroom. The protestors were pushing Hochul to support a “good cause” eviction bill that would limit landlords’ ability to evict tenants and raise rents. They were also pressing her to extend unemployment benefits to undocumented immigrants and other “excluded” workers.

“Democrats, it wouldn’t be the same without a lot of ruckus,” she said.

2. Despite the designation, Hochul could still be in for a fight.

Hochul was expected to perform well at the convention after garnering widespread support among party leaders across the state. And she delivered.

The incumbent governor received 85.56% of the weighted vote of committee members, making her the party’s designee and firmly placing her on the primary ballot. But she likely won’t be alone.

Hochul still has at least two Democratic opponents. One, Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island, declined to formally seek the nomination Thursday. It was clear he wouldn’t have received 25% of the vote, the benchmark to guarantee a place on the primary ballot and avoid collecting the required signatures needed to get on the ballot. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams did take a stab at it, but he fell well short – garnering 12.46%. (Paul Nichols, a little-known legislative staffer, also sought the designation Thursday, but he received less than 2% of the vote.)

Both Suozzi and Williams say they intend to petition their way onto the June 28 ballot by collecting at least 15,000 signatures, including a minimum of 100 each in at least half of the state’s congressional districts.

“The glass is half full, either way,” Williams, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, said. “One of the biggest points of propelling our (lieutenant governor) campaign in 2018 was actually the petition process. As an organizer, it gave us a great opportunity to organize on the ground, speak to people and have them commit in their mind by signing the petition.”

Williams, meanwhile, had his nomination seconded during the convention by his wife, India Sneed-Williams. Sneed-Williams, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer last year, just gave birth on Monday, with the child still in the newborn intensive care unit.

“Jumaane is rooted in his love for New York and that’s why he got my permission to run,” Sneed-Williams said.

3. Hillary Clinton makes the case for Democrats

Clinton had a key role in the convention lineup, delivering a keynote speech that served as a Democratic rallying cry as much as it was an introduction to Hochul.

“Let’s show that democracy works, that it delivers results for people and it makes things better, fairer and more prosperous for everyone,” Clinton said. “That’s what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are trying to do every day, and it’s what Kathy Hochul and Brian Benjamin are trying to do in New York.”

Clinton has been a frequent presence at state Democratic conventions dating back to 2000, when she first ran for Senate in New York. In 2018, she and Biden both delivered addresses before Cuomo was nominated for a third term.

Earlier in the day, Suozzi said Clinton had previously tried to discourage him from running for governor and remain in Congress in the name of Democratic unity. Suozzi declined.

“The state’s in a lot of trouble because people are leaving our state,” he told reporters. “We’ve got a problem with crime, we have a problem with taxes and we have a problem with the Democratic Party that we’re not talking to the people about the issues that they really care about.”

On Wednesday, Suozzi announced that former Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna will be running for lieutenant governor.

4. Tish James takes on Andrew Cuomo

The Democrats’ 2022 convention served as a showcase for the new era of New York politics following the resignation of former Cuomo, who lorded over the state party for the entirety of his 11 years in office.

But Cuomo did turn up at one pivotal moment, albeit in name only.

As she accepted the party’s nomination for re-election, Attorney General Letitia James directly invoked the former governor and his attempts to cast doubt on her office’s report that found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women and helped hasten his resignation.

James went as far as to compare Cuomo to former President Donald Trump, another powerful politician who is frequently critical of James.

“I will not bow, I will not break and I will not be bullied by him or Donald Trump,” James said to applause from the crowd of Democratic committee members and their allies.

James’ speech drew a rebuke from Team Cuomo, which has spent months picking her report apart and publicly calling James’ motivations into question – particularly as she briefly ran for governor before reverting back to the attorney general’s race.

“The fact is she ignored clear evidence of blackmail, perjury, inconsistent testimony and witness tampering, misused her office as a springboard for her own botched bid for governor and falsely accused the former governor of violating the law,” said Rich Azzopardi, Cuomo’s spokesperson.

“I am proud to stand by the findings of the report because truth crushed to the ground will always rise again,” James said in her remarks.

5. Mayor Eric Adams calls for a return to normalcy

Mayor Eric Adams used his mid-afternoon speaking slot to make a plea for a return to pre-pandemic normalcy as he pushed for measures to bolster the working class.

“New Yorkers, it’s time to get back to work,” Adams said. “You can’t tell me you’re afraid of COVID on Monday and I see you in the nightclub on Sunday.”

Adams used the example of an accountant who hasn’t been going to the office. That person isn’t going to the cleaners or out for a post-work meal. And the effect of that trickles down to blue-collar workers like dishwashers and servers, he said.

“It’s time to open our state and our city and show the country the resiliency of who we are,” he said.

Adams’ plea came as he made a pitch for increasing the city’s earned income tax credit, enacting universal child care and improving the availability of job training. And it came after Hochul previously said she wants to see New York City workers soon return to the office – a call that has rankled some workers but is supported by a variety of business interests.

The event was seemingly emblematic of a return to normalcy: it was maskless and in-person.

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