The race to the progressive left is under way in New York state, with word that New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is forming an “exploratory committee” and may launch a Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
No serious politician launches an exploratory committee to ponder whether to run. Williams is running.
In case you’ve lost track of his political pedigree, he is a founding member of the Progressive Coalition. One revealing snapshot of his ideology dates from last year, when he told NY1 that he would seek to block the city’s budget because it didn’t go far enough to defund the New York City Police Department. As a progressive, Williams practices what he preaches.
His decision to run a primary against Hochul has enormous implications. It not only means he is making a move on the governor’s mansion, but it also triggers a series of decisions and events that could crater New York’s future. Hochul will feel the need to move even further left, Attorney General Letitia James will now consider whether she will enter the primary contest, and moderate New Yorkers are going to look far more closely at what the Republican Party has to offer.
While James is keeping her own counsel regarding a primary move on Hochul, she has dropped hints at public speaking opportunities in Manhattan that she is seriously considering the race. More insightful, however, is her sudden uptick in appearances on Long Island, a voter-rich target, where she has recently been a keynoter at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage and County Executive Laura Curran’s gun-buyback news conference.
If James were to become governor, even more New York City progressives would emerge in Albany’s version of musical chairs, as former gubernatorial primary candidate Zephyr Teachout has now signaled her intent to run for attorney general if a vacancy were to open. To put things in context, the Progressive Change Committee proclaims Teachout as “one of us” on its website, and back in 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed Teachout’s failed run for attorney general.
In a state where the population north of the Harlem River is relatively small and New York City teeters on de facto de Blasio socialism, no candidate can take Long Island’s massive voting bloc for granted, which could very well make the difference in whether Hochul, Williams or James is able to defeat the Republican gubernatorial candidate. For the moment, that GOP standard bearer is Long Island’s own Lee Zeldin. Yet much could happen to the current frontrunner between now and his party’s nominating convention. His recent announcement that he is currently in remission from leukemia is a dramatic reminder that life can intrude on candidacies.
This much is clear: The state’s business community, which depends on a stable, safe and rational environment in which to employ tens of millions of people, would develop the dry heaves if a progressive candidate were to become New York’s next governor. Progressives’ unequivocal anti-business manifesto, which ran Amazon’s proposed headquarters out of Queens, was a clear message to every CEO, entrepreneur and employer. It is no longer a question of Republican or Democrat. Williams’s potential decision to run for governor defines a very clear ideological abyss that will have moderates, and the business community as a whole, contemplating their future as New Yorkers.
One can hope that there is truth to the axiom that American politics has always been about pendulum swings, but with a statewide political party that made the closing of Rikers Island and defunding the police stated policy, it might be time for Long Island to consider that aspirational dream of becoming the 51st state.
Ronald J. Rosenberg has been an attorney for 42 years, concentrating in commercial litigation and transactions, and real estate, municipal, zoning and land use law. He founded the Garden City law firm Rosenberg Calica & Birney in 1999.