By Ronald J. Rosenberg
Is it any surprise that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s once insurmountable lead in the polls is eroding when public opinion surveys are analyzed carefully?
While Hochul has a stunningly large campaign war chest, suggesting that she can buy an overwhelming number of broadcast and print ads and direct-mail campaigns, what you can’t fix with money is a tone-deaf political campaign.
From her endorsement of illegal two-family homes in the heart of Long Island residential neighborhoods, to her inability to confront progressives in Albany who are making street crime a New York pastime, to her most recent self-destructive advocacy of congestion pricing, the governor is sleepwalking through a campaign of missteps.
She would not be the first officeholder to assume a victory party on election night only to discover that incumbency held false promise and led to errant assumptions.
Consider County Executive Laura Curran’s loss to Bruce Blakeman last November. That wasn’t the first time that a New York incumbent was stunned by a loss. Ed Mangano did the same thing to Tom Suozzi. Republican Alfonse D’Amato ran a flawless campaign in 1980 in a heavily Democratic state, and was returned for another six years in 1986 after a first term that made him unbeatable. Similarly, George Pataki stunned Mario Cuomo in a gubernatorial race that many thought was Cuomo’s to lose. And so he did.
By now, a growing number of New York Democrats recognize the threat that November holds for them. As a result, they are seeking to change the conversation. Rather than address the issues they are directly responsible for, they are turning to national politics, where there remains a white-hot divide over issues like abortion. Similarly, they are seeking to make the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot a local issue.
It’s a classic political tactic. If you don’t like where the conversation is going, change the subject. In this case, Democratic strategists are telling their candidates they need to motivate their base or prepare for a dismal election night.
Understandably, reminding Democratic voters that their incumbent candidates voted to dismantle criminal laws that protect law-abiding citizens isn’t a recipe for success. Nor is a reminder that those same incumbents voted to impose a hefty surcharge on Long Islanders driving into Manhattan. Or a reminder that progressives have captured your party, and the lurch to the left is so profound that you may not recognize New York later in this decade.
Hochul isn’t new to the cynical game of politics. She is a veteran of the hard-knock school of Buffalo Democratic machine politics. That’s why she is appearing at every downstate ribbon-cutting or other photo op that her schedulers can squeeze on to her calendar. The irony is that many of the project unveilings she is celebrating were pushed through by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
The LIRR third track project? That was Cuomo, but his name was never mentioned during Hochul’s celebratory news conference in August.
The new LaGuardia Airport terminals? Once again, it was Hochul welcoming 21st-century improvements made possible by Andrew the Abdicated.
The Penn Station upgrades? Another Cuomo legacy project. And there is no reference by the Hochul administration to the political strong-arming Cuomo engaged in to get the project moving.
Potholes? Well, here she tips her hat to D’Amato, whose critics sought to minimize his achievement of bringing hundreds of millions of dollars to New York’s aging infrastructure by suggesting he was the “pothole senator.” Instead, in his 1986 campaign, D’Amato ran with the endorsements of many of the state’s Democratic mayors, who had never seen a U.S. senator in their cities, much less a federal grant.
That the state’s Democratic leaders seek to divert attention from policy issues their candidates are responsible for, to national issues that remain Washington’s purview, reveals a justifiable nervousness. One current poll has Hochul and her Republican opponent, Lee Zeldin, separated by 11 percentage points. That reveals a continuing slide for an incumbent who may have money to burn on ads but is confronting a skeptical electorate whose quality of life has eroded.
Nick Langworthy, the GOP state chairman, recently said of Democrats, “They are terrified their base is not going to show up. . . . There’s a lot of campaign left to fight here, and if they think people are going to just take a couple of hot-button issues and that’s going to define the race, they’re dreaming.”
One suspects that election night 2022 will not have a called winner in New York’s most high-profile contest until the morning after.
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.