Lieutenant Governor’s Race: Big Endorsement Enough To Close The Gap?
By Gilat Melamed – Syracuse, N.Y. (CitrusTV) – With today being the New York State Democratic Primary, NYC Councilman Jumaane Williams, the challenger for the lieutenant governorship, picked up a last minute endorsement from Senator Bernie Sanders this week.
The Vermont senator, has endorsed a number of progressive challengers across the country as part of this primary season’s “blue wave.”
Notably, the Senator also endorsed the progressive candidate for Attorney General, Zephyr Teachout, but not the challenger in the marquee primary for Governor, Cynthia Nixon.
The Sanders endorsement may not change the tide of this race, though. Bruce Gyory, a Democratic Political Consultant, says it’s a tall task to win a statewide democratic primary the first time out given the diversity of the state’s democratic electorate.
“Williams is an innovative guy,” he said. “He has a substantial legislative record in the New York City Council, which the New York Times referred to, but he has not really developed the profile or the platform yet that is resonating with voters outside of New York City.”
On the same morning of the Sanders endorsement, new Siena College poll numbers showed that incumbent Kathy Hochul increased her lead over Williams. While Williams numbers remained stable since the last poll taken in July, Hochul’s lead increased from nine points to 22 points as less voters were undecided. Hochul now holds a 43-21% lead.
The large number of undecided voters remaining is not surprising to Steven Greenberg, a pollster with Siena College Research Institute.
“Most voters don’t know enough about either one to have an opinion,” he said. “Most voters at least at the end of July were undecided about who they were going to vote for in this election between two people that they did not either know well, or not know at all.”
In order to better understand these two candidates, it’s important to understand the office they’re campaigning for.
The lieutenant governor has two constitutional responsibilities: preside over the state senate, and take over as governor if he/she dies, becomes incapacitated, leaves office, or travels out of state.
Aside from those duties, there are no real defined roles for what the lieutenant governor does, Greenberg noted.
Much of the August 29th debate, the only one between the two candidates, came down to a fundamental difference in how the candidates view the role of lieutenant governor.
Williams, who was boasting a “Stay Woke” pin on his blazer, found this difference as so notable that it was the first thing he said after thanking Hochul and the moderator for having the debate.
“What I suspect is going to happen in the next 30 minutes is a fundamentally different vision and perception of what the lieutenant governor’s office is, can, and should be,” said Williams.
Williams’ perception is that the lieutenant governor serves the people of New York State first, not the governor. While he acknowledged the connection between governor and lieutenant governor is ideally a partnership, he criticized Hochul for not being more independent.
“Partnership should not be equated to a rubber stamp,” said Williams.
Hochul, on the other hand, emphasized the collaboration that she believes should occur between the two offices, using her position as the incumbent to highlight what she has helped the governor accomplish over the past four years.
“I’m proud of the record of accomplishment where I’ve been able to champion causes as the only women in statewide office that are near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Fighting for women’s reproductive rights, ensuring that we have workplaces and college campuses where women could be free from sexual assault and harassment.”
Gyory predicts Hochul’s partnership with Cuomo will be rewarded at the polls.
“That voters want their lieutenant governor and their governor to be at odds with each other, even though they run on the same ticket in November, is one that I think there’s scant historical examples, and no polling data, to suggest that’s what voters are looking for,” said Gyory.
Williams is certainly campaigning as the challenger. In addition to discussing his accomplishments as a city councilman, he’s aiming to present himself as an activist and a new progressive voice (much like his choice for governor, actress Cynthia Nixon).
“When establishment Democrats were telling us that this ($15 minimum wage) was a pipe dream, I was actually leading boycotts in Wendy’s, on the ground trying to work with activists to elevate this to the point where there would be some action,” said Williams during the debate.
While the race for lieutenant governor has not been receiving as much attention as many other Democratic primaries this season, it boils down to a widespread theme— “establishment democrats” v. “progressive challengers.”
If incumbents Hochul and Cuomo come out victorious in Thursday’s primary, challengers Nixon and Williams still have the opportunity to be on the November ballot, running as a joint ticket under the Working Families Party.