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Primary race for lieutenant governor closer than governor's race

Jumanne Williams

The Democratic primary for lieutenant governor is turning out to be closer than the governor’s race — according to the polls, anyway.

New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams is challenging incumbent Kathy Hochul for the post.

Williams said he brings a different vision to the office. He said he wants to be independent and sees the lieutenant governor’s role as similar to the post of New York City public advocate, an elected position that is meant to represent the needs of the public.

He said Hochul, the current lieutenant governor, has said she is the eyes and ears of the governor. Williams said he would be the “eyes and ears of the people.”

“Currently that positon is a very expensive ribbon-cutting office,” Williams said. “But we have to have some more substance.”

Williams wants to end the schools-to-prisons pipeline, fight against gun violence and create better relationships between minority communities and the police.

Williams is running on a ticket with Democratic gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon, and he’s optimistic that Nixon will be the next governor. But he said regardless of who wins that race, it won’t change his view of the lieutenant governor’s job, which he said is to “hold everyone accountable.” 

“If this current governor believed in what he said, I’m the type of lieutenant governor that he would want,” Williams said. “But he does not thrive in accountability. He thrives in misinformation, deception and headline grabbing.”

Credit Kathy Hochul / Twitter
Kathy Hochul (right) with NAACP New York Conference President Hazel Dukes (left) and Congressman Charles Rangel (D-Harlem).

Hochul, a Buffalo native who once held the congressional seat now occupied by indicted GOP Congressman Chris Collins, has spent the past four years traveling the state and attending events on behalf of the governor. She was at the State Fair at the end of August, where she said she backs many of Cuomo’s achievements, like a phase-in to a $15 minimum wage and partial paid family leave.

“I clearly am Governor Cuomo’s running mate, we were both endorsed by the state party convention in May,” said Hochul, who noted she welcomes the primary challenge.

“It gives me an opportunity to let people know who I am and the work that I’ve done as lieutenant governor for the past four years,” she said.

In a primary where the candidates are in competition over their progressive credentials, Hochul has been criticized for more conservative positions she held in the past. She received an “A” rating from the NRA in her 2012 congressional race when the group endorsed her over challenger Collins. And, when she was Erie County clerk, she threatened to turn undocumented immigrants seeking driver’s licenses over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Hochul said she now supports allowing the immigrants to get the licenses.

She said she wants to serve another four years because there’s a lot of unfinished business that needs to completed, like better protecting abortion rights for women. And she, like Cuomo, wants New York to be an alternative to the policies of President Donald Trump.

“Regardless of what happens in our nation’s capital, people can count on New York state as the birthplace of so many movements, including the women’s rights movement, that we will stand up for people,” said Hochul, who added she and the governor are spending a lot of energy on “fighting back against the Trump administration.” 

Hochul has been spending most of her days lately campaigning in New York City, where until recently, she trailed Williams by nine points in the polls. She now has a six-point lead. Hochul also is ahead of Williams in the downstate suburbs and upstate.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.