By Ronald J. Rosenberg
When U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi announced his Democratic primary run against Gov. Kathy Hochul, it may have seemed like a D’Amato moment.
Alfonse D’Amato, then the Town of Hempstead supervisor, saw a glimmer of political daylight in 1980, when he decided to reach for the political gold ring of U.S. senator from New York. Defeating the legendary three-term incumbent Jacob Javits was deemed impossible by every political pundit and commentator, and you would’ve assumed that not even the bookies would take your bet.
Yet D’Amato successfully navigated every political rapid to secure victory, a win that stands to this day as testimony to astute political analysis, hard work and an indomitable belief in oneself.
When Suozzi first announced his intention to run against Hochul, he rightly assumed that state Attorney General Letitia James would remain a Democratic primary candidate for governor. Given her left-wing credentials, combined with the progressive candidate for that office, Jumaane Williams, Suozzi reasoned that moderate Democrats would look for a “safe house” from which to escape the Democrats’ lurch to the left. He certainly has the credentials to be that moderate.
But with James backing out of the race, the political threat from the left that Suozzi had expected to help rally centrist Democrats evaporated. Williams doesn’t have the recognition, sufficient base or fundraising capabilities for a credible statewide race. That leaves Hochul in a powerful place, because she has the means to outflank Suozzi on any number of fronts.
She’s reportedly playing hardball: Word has it she has already told potential donors, “Either you’re with me or I’m against you.” This tactic has obviously worked, because the entire Long Island Democratic State Senate and Assembly delegation has thrown its support to the Buffalo-based Hochul rather than Suozzi.
She is also dominating the New York City political news cycle. Her recent effort used the power of her office to dangle support for infrastructure projects that would make the lives of people who likely would have voted for Williams far easier. Her proposal to create an interborough express line from Brooklyn to Queens would allow an underutilized 14-mile freight line to potentially connect some 900,000 residents to mass transit. The concept has been discussed by others over the years, but a gubernatorial news conference in the dead of winter makes news. The proposal quickly won the endorsement of Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
That leaves Suozzi holding virtual town hall meetings with potential primary voters while firing off verbal sniper rounds at Hochul’s handling of Covid-19. He must hope she will be pushed to the left on any number of issues, which could motivate the Democratic middle to take to the primary polls. And the left may just do that.
The insanity of bail “reform” has effectively jeopardized every Democrat in office — just ask Laura Curran and Todd Kaminsky. The new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, said he would not prosecute shoplifters or those who don’t use a gun in the commission of a robbery, and if a gun were used, they would only be charged with a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor for armed robbery? Completely insane.
New York City has also signed into law a bill that allows an estimated 800,000 noncitizens to vote in municipal elections (which Republicans have sued to overturn as being unconstitutional). Say what? Welcome to the new New York City, which may be even worse than the New York City under recent Mayor Bill de Blasio, who can only be compared to a communist.
Is Hochul prepared to endorse the actions of fellow Democrats that are at odds with the fundamental ethics of law-abiding citizens? What tightrope will she walk because of the actions of the progressive wing of her party that would make moderate Democrats flee to anyone willing to stand against that tide?
There is another massive political force out there — Andrew Cuomo. He has sent out emails to everyone who has ever breathed politics to say “stay tuned” now that criminal charges against him have been dismissed. He need not actually run for office to be a force. He has millions of unspent campaign dollars that could be quietly directed to any statewide race, even to someone for whom he has previously expressed antipathy, like Tom Suozzi. It would be in Cuomo’s character to act as a spoiler.
Suozzi may or may not be able to replicate the political roadmap that allowed D’Amato to seize victory after victory during the autumn of 1980, resulting in a statewide win on election night. However, today’s political environment is more combustible, more unpredictable and more unforgiving than ever before. By their actions, progressive ideologues could very well determine a surprising outcome in this year’s Democratic primary for governor – one they won’t like.
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.