As expected, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is running for Governor, seeking to avenge his narrow defeat by Kathy Hochul for Lieutenant Governor in 2018, although the biggest impact of his candidacy could be to make it easier for her to gain a full term as Governor.
Mr. Williams launched his bid Nov. 16, declaring in a video, "Right now our state needs to move forward, from a pandemic, from an era of scandal, and from old ways of governing that have failed so many for so long."
A Tangled History
Most, if not all, of those remarks could be seen as aimed at ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Williams, a longtime critic, got in Mr. Cuomo political kitchen during his 2018 bid to be next in the line of succession by vowing that if elected, he would use the position to be a check on his excesses.
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This led the then-Governor to push particularly hard for the re-election of Ms. Hochul, after at one point previously reportedly exploring the possibility of replacing her on his ticket. Nonetheless, Mr. Williams—who was then a City Councilman from Brooklyn—posted a surprisingly strong showing in the Democratic primary that September, losing to Ms. Hochul by less than 7 percent of the statewide vote.
That enhanced his stature enough to propel him to an easy victory in a special election for Public Advocate in early 2019 that came about because the previous occupant of that job, Ms. James, had won election as State Attorney General the previous November, with the sharp-elbowed support of Mr. Cuomo.
This time, however, the conventional wisdom since Mr. Williams announced the formation of an exploratory committee in late September and the next day Ms. James used an appearance before the Association for a Better New York in Manhattan to broadly hint she was going to take on Ms. Hochul rather than seeking re-election, has been that they will hurt each other's chances.
Could Split Black Vote
When both of them made clear their plans to run in late September, Tyquana Henderson-Rivers, a Queens-based political strategist who has since become part of Ms. Hochul's campaign effort, said in an interview, "Part of Tish James's pathway to victory is consolidating the African-American vote."
She said that she believed Mr. Williams was unconcerned about possibly costing Ms. James the Democratic nomination by splitting that vote because his main objective was "to organize the left in a statewide year," at a point when the Democratic Socialists of America were expected to run a fuller slate of candidates for the State Senate and Assembly than the group had in capturing a couple of City Council nominations with candidates who subsequently were elected earlier this month.
Adding intrigue is the possibility that Mr. Williams, whose strong advocacy for the Working Families Party last year helped it keep its ballot line despite a change in the threshold for minor political parties to clear—from 50,000 to 130,000 votes—approved in 2019 by a special election commission chaired by a close Cuomo ally, State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, might be on that party's line for next November's general election.
Ms. James won her first City Council race in 2003 running solely on the WFP line, but Mr. Williams is considered clearly to her left politically. He made that clear during an appearance on WPIX-11 the morning after announcing his candidacy, shrugging off a question about the role Democrats had in bringing bail reform to the state early last year had on several key defeats incumbents suffered recently in key Long Island races.
"The Democrats very often try to be Republican Lite, and I really think that was part of the problem," the Public Advocate told WPIX morning co-anchor Dan Mannarino. "Bail reforms are not connected to the increase in crime here or around the country. The numbers show the recidivism rate [in many areas] has been lower than before" those changes were made.
Both he and Ms. James come from Brooklyn, and black voters from the borough have been key parts of their bases.
Lets Hochul 'Moderate'
"His voters are many of the same people Tish James is shooting for," said State Sen. Diane Savino, who has not committed to any candidate but on a couple of occasions praised moves by Ms. Hochul over the three-month period since she became Governor after Mr. Cuomo's resignation under pressure.
Mr. Williams's entry, she said during a Nov. 17 phone interview, "changes things for the Governor. She can focus more on moderate voters upstate and on Long Island and the kind of people I represent" in a district covering Staten Island and a piece of western Brooklyn.
Competition for those voters could come from U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, whose district includes part of Queens and part of Nassau County. He has expressed interest in running, although he figures to be competing for many of the same more-moderate Democratic voters who will be a key part of Ms. Hochul's base.
In a 2006 run for Governor, the then-Nassau County Executive was thumped in the Democratic primary by Eliot Spitzer, getting just 19 percent of the vote. He also narrowly gained re-election last year, and Mr. Jacobs, who in addition to his state party position, is Nassau Democratic Chairman, has endorsed Ms. Hochul, raising further questions about Congressman Suozzi's chances in a crowded gubernatorial primary.
Ms. Savino pointed to other reasons he might not make the run related to Democrats' precarious majority in the House of Representatives.
"I can't see Suozzi doing it," she said. "There's a problem for Democrats in Washington—I'm sure they're going to lean on him to stay there" rather than run a non-incumbent in the wake of Republican wins in Nassau County during this year's elections for County Executive and District Attorney. She also pointed to GOP gains in City Council races in Queens among Asian voters as one more reason congressional Democratic leader would be reluctant to have Mr. Suozzi give up his seat for a decidedly long-shot gubernatorial run.
Disgraced But Flush
The biggest unknown factor in the primary could be Mr. Cuomo, who despite his inglorious departure from office in the wake of the report issued by Ms. James finding that he had harassed 11 women, most of them state employees, still retains some support and, at least as importantly, has $18 million in contributions he raised prior to resigning that could be used in next year's campaign.
Recently, the possibility of him running for State Attorney General, a job in which he served two terms before being elected Governor in 2010, has been floated. Ms. Savino said that might be a safer option for him on two counts: his chances of winning and the legal jeopardy he would face if he made an unlikely comeback and gained a fourth term as Governor.
In a crowded field in which he might need just 25 percent of the vote to prevail, she said, "If he runs again, he could win, but if he does, he faces impeachment."
That would not be the case, she noted, if he ran for State Attorney General and won, although the continuing legal trouble facing him from his handling of nursing-home residents during the early days of the pandemic could turn toxic for his hopes of winning any office.
Won't Leave Money Unspent?
Regardless, Ms. Savino said, she expected Mr. Cuomo would use all the money available to him, and based on his continued bitterness towards Ms. James—who he seems to believe betrayed him after his help in her winning election three years ago—it could be to spoil her chances of becoming Governor.
"I think that's a given," Ms. Savino said. "He's certainly going to use a good portion of that money to attack her, not just as an opportunistic elected official but to attack her credibility as an effective Attorney General."
Another veteran politico, speaking conditioned on anonymity, was even more emphatic about that, saying, "He's gonna spend $17,999,999 of what he's got in that account against Tish James."
Told that this made Mr. Cuomo sound more vengeful than Donald Trump, this Democrat replied that the former Governor "is the original vindictive person. Trump is late to the party on that."