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Hazel Dukes endorses Hochul; analysts call it a shrewd move

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP

Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference, speaks during an event in Harlem on Aug. 26. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

ALBANY — Historic civil rights activist Hazel Dukes has endorsed Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s bid to win a full term next year in a move political analysts call significant and shrewd.

"Throughout her life and career, Governor Kathy Hochul has consistently stood up for the voiceless and marginalized in our communities," said Dukes, president of New York's NAACP, in her endorsement. "As an elected official, she has shown an unparalleled ability to listen and govern with compassion."

Hochul, a Buffalo Democrat, has been courting the New York City and Black vote since she took the office after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in August. Cuomo stepped down amid sexual harassment accusations recounted in a report by state Attorney General Letitia James.

James comes from a political power base in Brooklyn that is a key to the Black vote in statewide races and some of her supporters have urged her to run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Brooklyn Democratic leaders haven’t yet weighed in on a candidate for governor.

Dukes, 89, was one of Cuomo’s strongest and last supporters as he faced the sexual harassment accusations. Cuomo had called Dukes his mother because she had known him and nurtured his political aspirations since he was a child and Dukes was a close ally of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Dukes’ endorsement, which carries weight in Manhattan and among many Black voters, wasn’t a surprise. At an August rally in Harlem when Hochul formally announced that State Sen. Brian Benjamin would be her lieutenant governor, she said that "my Mom on Earth is Hazel Dukes." Dukes called Hochul her "sister Kathy."

Veteran political strategist Hank Sheinkopf called the endorsement a "smart tactic."

The endorsement "proves that African-American women are not united behind a James-for-governor movement," Sheinkopf said in an interview with Newsday.

Hochul faces several potential challenges in a possible Democratic primary in June. They include James, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. James hasn’t said she’s interested in a run while Williams and de Blasio are considering campaigns for governor.

Hochul has been seeking the early endorsement of county Democratic chairs statewide, but has spent the most time cultivating her support among New York City voters, who can determine the outcome of a Democratic primary.

"Hazel Dukes’ endorsement is significant because it is another New York City voice that has lined up behind Gov. Hochul," said national political commentator Susan Del Percio, who has worked extensively in New York state politics. "Should there be a serious primary against Hochul, it will be fought in New York City. It is critical that Hochul get as much early support from New York City influencers as possible, as it will show strength and potentially stop others from entering the race."

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