New York governor’s race wide open, Democrats rushing

Over a weekend in Southern California, Letitia James, Attorney General of New York City, courted corporate donors to join a new fundraising initiative to help her become the the country’s first black female governor.

Closer to home, Governor Kathy Hochul – her campaign accounts already swelling by more than $ 11 million – waded through Ms James’ political backyard on Sunday, preaching from the pulpits of black churches in Brooklyn and the United States. Queens, rich in votes, on the plagues of the coronavirus and gun violence.

Two days later, Jumaane D. Williams of Brooklyn, the New York public attorney, formalized his gubernatorial candidacy, using a campaign launch video to position himself as an activist with the most claim. allowed from the increasingly congested left lane of the race.

“Without courageous progressive leadership, the way things have always been will stand in the way of what they can be,” he said in the video.

Three months after Ms Hochul’s unexpected rise as the state’s first female governor, next year’s Democratic primary contest is now moving towards something New York hasn’t seen in decades: a free-wheeling intra-party battle between some of the state’s best-known political figures.

The race, which has run in recent weeks from the beaches of Puerto Rico to West Hollywood, Calif., And will culminate in June, will test traditional racial, geographic and ideological coalitions in a liberal stronghold, setting up the one of the highest-profile Democratic primary battles in the country as the year of the midterm elections approaches.

“So many people like me are going to struggle with this very, very hard,” said Ruben Diaz Jr., Borough President of the Bronx.

The brewing melee has already inspired a mixture of anticipation and mistrust among party leaders.

For some officials and left-wing activists, the profusion of possible candidates woke up memories of this year’s mayoral primary, when they struggled to rally around a candidate, and Eric Adams, a relatively moderate , triumphed. This time around, there is a real commitment, officials say, to uniting early behind a candidate – most likely Ms James or Mr Williams – although that may be easier said than done.

More moderate leaders are also voicing concerns, warning that after this month’s stinging election losses for Democrats in New York and across the country, the nomination of someone seen as too leftist could put the government at risk. party grip on Albany. Some have pointed out the losses to defend their own brands of politics.

Steven Bellone, the Suffolk County executive who plans to open a number of statewide offices, said his party’s beating on Long Island “was a message to the Democratic Party.” . He added: “If our party does not sound the alarm now, before the midterms, I think we are going through a very difficult time ahead.”

Tensions flared up just after election day as New York’s political elite – including all potential candidates except Mr Williams – scampered onto wet, alcohol-filled beaches from Puerto Rico on an annual post-election lobbying, politics and party trip.

After months of shadowboxing, this turned out to be a surreal campaign in miniature, as Ms Hochul, Ms James and Mr Bellone whispered under palm trees alongside two other potential Democratic candidates: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Rep. Thomas Suozzi. The candidates surreptitiously met with city council members, party activists and union leaders in what amounted to powerful discussion groups fueled by piña coladas.

Ms James, for her part, offered new indications to Puerto Rico that she intended to run to the left of Ms Hochul while building a base which her allies hope will be larger than that of Mr Williams.

She described herself as “the face of the Working Families Party,” New York’s left-wing alternative to the Democratic line. She literally dropped a mic after a relentless campaign appeal to Bronx Democrats gathered at a makeshift club, who roared their approval. And the next morning, Ms James turned a union-hosted breakfast into a de facto campaign rally.

“Join the OG team,” Ms. James said at a meeting of the Working Families Party. “Her name is Tish James.”

Ms. Hochul has shown her political power in other ways. She threw a lavish party in a ballroom overlooking the ocean, where union leaders and business lobbyists fought for the governor’s ear between bites of past appetizers, and Mr. Adams showed up, days after Ms. Hochul made an appearance at her victory party.

In an interview in a private room at a beachfront hotel – which was briefly interrupted when Ms James entered – Ms Hochul warned that the general election in the gubernatorial race could be competitive; Representative Lee Zeldin from Long Island is considered the leading Republican candidate. She urged her party to focus on issues of public safety and economic growth, among other priorities, after Democrats seriously lost in New York.

“They are worried about the direction our party is taking,” she said. “They want to make sure that the dominant principles of our party prevail.”

For now, however, it’s the left and Brooklyn lanes of the primary that seem the most crowded. Up to three candidates – Ms James, Mr Williams and Mr de Blasio – could ultimately stand: all boasting of having deep ties to the progressive left movement, and all from this borough.

“I support Jumaane because I think he has real potential to turn people on,” said Brad Lander, New York City’s comptroller-elect. Calling both Mr Williams and Ms James “truly convincing leaders,” he also stressed that “it is important that progressives are on the same page in the race for governor and rally around a candidate”.

Ms James’ allies had hoped Mr Williams, who won 47% of the vote against Ms Hochul as lieutenant governor in 2018, would skip the race, fearing the two candidates would turn away from each other.

An in-person meeting between Ms James and Mr Williams to discuss the race last month, before either officially entered, ended with the two still heading for a race, according to three people with direct knowledge of the meeting. Representatives for both candidates declined to comment on the meeting, which was first reported by the city and state.

“Personally, I’d rather not have two friends from Brooklyn fighting each other,” said Congresswoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, president of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

She added: “It’s a historic time for the state to have a woman, and it would be even more historic to have a black woman, so I think it’s the year of the woman for the State.”

Mr de Blasio, another left-wing Brooklynite who is stepping down at the end of the year, would only complicate matters if he officially joins the race. And he is taking clear steps to do so.

Over the past few weeks, he has quietly summoned Gracie Mansion’s top political advisers, according to allies, and recently created a campaign committee to start raising funds for a possible statewide candidacy. In Puerto Rico, he warned that when Democrats “try to be light Republicans, we almost always lose.”

“It’s pretty clear that I want to continue in public service,” said de Blasio. “New York State needs a hell of a job. “

The mayor also asked to have lunch with Dennis Mehiel and John Catsimatidis, two loyal donors who have both supported Ms Hochul, to ask for help funding surveys and other research to guide her planning, according to people familiar with discussions and M. Catsimatidis. .

“He assesses things,” Catsimatidis said. “You always give respect to people you’ve known for 25 years. Am I okay with everything he does? Absolutely not, but I’m telling him the truth.

Ms Hochul, of Buffalo, has worked aggressively to solidify her position in the five boroughs, but she undoubtedly has everything to gain if this vote in the upstate is split among the candidates in New York City. .

In the meantime, Ms. James appears to be focusing intensely on reducing Ms. Hochul’s fundraising advantage; the governor is set to set a fundraising record by the end of the year after announcing on Friday that she had already cleared $ 10 million in checks since August.

Ms James and her team have scheduled a campaign briefing with donors on Zoom on Wednesday.

Ms. James ‘stint through Southern California included an’ Exclusive Talk and Roundtable ‘on Voting Rights with business leaders at Soho House in West Hollywood and a series of meetings around a new’ Tish James Leadership Circle, ”which began soliciting contributions between $ 5,000 and $ 25,000.

Dominique Shelton Leipzig, partner at Perkins Coie in Los Angeles leading the initiative, said she hoped to spark national interest from business leaders and others in Ms James’ work on civil rights and its potentially historic candidacy.

“We are convinced that there are many like-minded people across the country who see New York as a harbinger of where we are headed,” she said. “We are confident that we will raise substantial funds for AG James.”

Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reports.

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