Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Jumaane Williams holds news conference outside the state Capitol building in Albany.

These next two weeks will be a turning point in New York state politics as the Democratic, Republican, Conservative and Working Families parties hold their nominating conventions to pick who will head their tickets and who will be at the mercy of the leaders’ coattails. Up for nomination are the offices for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general as well as assembly, senate and congressional candidates. United States Senator Chuck Schumer is also seeking another six-year term, his fifth.

The conventions choose only the five posts at the top of the ticket. Each county political organization chooses which candidate they will endorse.

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The Democrats met on Thursday, February 17, at the Sheraton in midtown Manhattan to anoint Buffalo’s Kathy Hochul as the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Harlem’s Brian Benjamin as her running mate for lieutenant governor, Brooklyn’s Letitia James as attorney general, the ever-popular Thomas DiNapoli of Glen Cove, Nassau County, as comptroller and equally popular Chuck Schumer (Brooklyn) for re-election.

Congressman Tom Suozzi of Glen Cove, Nassau County, and Brooklyn’s Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate, are hoping to unseat Hochul. Neither candidate has chosen a running mate as of press time.

The keynote speaker for the convention was Hillary Clinton, who was expected to give a rousing, cheerleading speech to rally the party faithful.

The New York Republican State Committee will hold its convention on Monday, February 28, and Tuesday, March 1.

Several Republican candidates are looking to unseat Hochul. Some names are more recognizable than others. Among the hopefuls are Congressman Lee Zeldin of Shirley, Suffolk County; former two-term Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino of Hawthorne, Westchester County; Scarsdale’s Harry Wilson; Manhattan’s Andrew Giuliani; Rego Park, Queens resident Derrick Gibson; a contractor and podcast host; and Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinello of Lowville.

During a recent virtual meeting, all six candidates spoke to the party’s county chairmen and members of the committees across the state.

“It’s important to show up. To earn someone’s vote and it’s important to keep showing up to keep earning that support,” said Zeldin, considered the presumptive party nominee for the Republicans and Conservatives. “Right now, the issues are on our side. This is a great opportunity for us. It’s about one team, the whole statewide ticket. This is last stand time and hopefully it’s a mentality that losing is not an option.

“As for Kathy Hochul? I don’t believe she should be elected to a school board let alone serving in this position where she is acting as an emperor governor in a way that should make Andrew Cuomo proud. Andrew Cuomo 2.0 is actually worse than the original. This is about going all-in and winning and saving our state,” Zeldin added.

Another hopeful took a different approach to attracting support.

“We want the economy to get on track,” said Astorino. “We want to make sure people actually stay in New York. We want to fix this crime because it affects everybody including businesses, families and the economy. Our education system is a mess and we cannot go back to Covid restrictions and mandates in the fall or right after the election if a new variant comes down. I will end all these mandates, lockdowns and restrictions on day one. I have said that repeatedly.”

A third, and decidedly the wealthiest of all the candidates, is a turnaround king for famous Fortune 500 companies. He ran for state comptroller in 2010.

“New York is broken and in desperate need of a turnaround,” said Harry Wilson. “The politicians on the other side have run Albany for too long and look what it’s gotten us. A rise in crime, the highest taxes in the country, school shutdowns, unscientific mandates and blatant corruption. It’s time to fix it. We’re not going to do it with more politicians. It’s going to take an outsider with the skills and the guts to fix Albany. This is the best chance we’ve had in decades to elect a Republican governor.”

Giuliani worked in the Trump administration and is not running away from that connection to the former president. Crime and high taxes are paramount for his campaign rhetoric.

“Once they feel like their family is threatened that’s when they say you know what, I’m taking my family, I’m taking my business and I’m leaving,” charged Giuliani. “You have to get crime under control. Second, we cannot be competing with California to constantly being the highest taxed state in the country. We need to take a page out of Florida and out of Texas. We need to drain the Albany swamp [when it comes to rampant corruption at the capital]. For us it would be bringing a battering ram to so many of these pet projects that festered under Andrew Cuomo and continues under Kathy Hochul over the last year.”

The other two GOP candidates are least known of the bunch but stepped forward to make a bid to lead the state.

“As governor, CRT (Critical Race Theory) will be going out the door and banned from our schools, the LGBT agenda it will be gone, the Safe Act needs to be gone. I intend to represent all people of the state of New York – Jews, Christians, Muslins. Everyone is getting attacked, especially in the Jewish community,” said Gibson, the only black candidate in the race. “I cannot encourage the people in my community to vote Democrat because they have a total wicked agenda. Crime is the biggest issue from keeping us from having a good economy. My plan is to bring in the state police and the National Guard and have them all work together to get crime under control in less than a month. We can no longer tolerate the nonsense that is coming from Governor Kathy Hoochie pandering to criminals. I meant what I said. Governor Kathy Hoochie because you act like that, I’m going to call you that.”

The final candidate who spoke was the first to get into the race. He’s from the North Country and sometimes the coldest place in the state, along the Tug Hill Plateau. His main point was to tie Hochul to her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.

“For Governor Hochul to come into that seat and pretend that she had no idea as to what was going on with 12 or 13 victims out there, that she had no idea what was going on with Governor Cuomo, that’s a lie in the first place,” Carpinelli maintained. “To stand by and say she had no idea of nursing homes didn’t have any say, that’s lie number two. What have you learned so far of the former governor and the governor we have now? Is that they are a bunch of liars. That’s what’s eroding the trust with the public. Be fair to us and let us be heard when we show up at the convention.”

John Sarcone, a resident of Croton-on-Hudson, Westchester County, and Michael Henry, a commercial litigation attorney from Astoria, Queens, are both vying to unseat incumbent Leticia James, who serves as New York’s attorney general.

Mark Szuszkiewicz, Patrick Hahn, Joe Pinion and Aleksander Mici are all seeking party support to take on Schumer. At a recent Conservative Party confab, only Pinion and Mici were allowed to speak to the party loyalists.

Both the Conservative Party and the Working Families’ Party will hold nominating conventions on February 26, at different locations. The Working Families’ Party, which promotes the fight for social, racial, and economic justice, has endorsed Jumaane Williams as their gubernatorial candidate.

Williams’s platform focuses on the issues surrounding housing fairness, including good cause eviction and public safety, including gun violence.

“I’m very excited about the energy the Working Families’ Party endorsement brings to my campaign,” Williams told The Jewish Press. “I think the momentum of the campaign is happening at the right moment. The governor has raised $21 million, we’re going to represent 21 million people. [Note: There are only 19 million people in New York State]. That’s a really big difference of how we approach this. The Democratic Party, which I am a member of, has done a really good job of telling people who not to vote for.”

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.