Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Kathy...

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Gov. Kathy Hochul at the Democrats' nominating convention on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Past state Democratic conventions were always a call to arms. The goals of gaining clout, beating back insurgencies, making incursions in GOP strongholds provided the backdrop.

The aura was different Thursday when the party convened in Manhattan. A prevailing theme was to secure the party’s huge tent — after a unique year of rebellion and turmoil within. Here, the famously fractious Democrats pulled off their first such gathering since 2006 without Andrew M. Cuomo as a powerful presence.

None of those who took to the rostrum — or gossiped at the receptions — sounded wistful for the Cuomo era, least of all Attorney General Letitia James. She drove tension late last year by announcing a primary challenge to Cuomo’s sudden successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul. But she withdrew six weeks later to run for reelection.

Accepting the nomination Thursday, James defiantly defended her sexual harassment probe against "the most powerful man in New York," and the female state employees who pressed it. James said of Cuomo: "I will not bow. I will not break. I will not be bullied by him, or Donald Trump."

The anti-Cuomo animus of last year within the party was confined at this event to a single incumbent’s pitch for another four years. And Hochul now is the first governor in memory to get the job by succession and be so widely favored to win election.

Designations for Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli proved drama-free. Hochul’s party holds a firm majority in the State Senate, headed by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an ally. For campaign purposes, that can mean unity or complacency, depending on circumstance.

State and Nassau County chairman Jay Jacobs said of Hochul in his buildup speech: "She’s a nice person. She cares about people." That was echoed by Rep. Brian Higgins, her fellow Western New Yorker, who described Hochul as a "good person" who is "optimistic" and "empathetic."

The idea is to contrast her style with Cuomo’s my-way-or-else approach. Hochul herself said: "We’re all Democrats . . . We actually care about people." At one point, she grinned and spoke through protesters’ chants.

Complaints about a scarcity of Latino representation arose. Longshot Hochul challenger Jumaane Williams, the NYC public advocate, raised that point to reporters before the gathering. Fellow underdog Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) addressed news media outside the convention room, alongside his newly declared Dominican-American ally for lieutenant governor, former City Councilwoman Diana Reyna, a popular figure in northern Brooklyn party circles.

Long Island State Sen. Kevin Thomas inveighed against recent spates of attacks on Asian Americans and, in a patriotic windup, had others recite with him: "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

"We belong here," he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in Washington, seeking a fifth term, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, running for a sixth, evoked national GOP extremism.

So did Schumer’s former Senate colleague Hillary Clinton — whose relevance now rests in being a lasting target of right-wing messaging — when she spoke. Her key line: "Isn’t it about time we elect a woman as our governor?"

A wider question is whether Hochul & Co. will motivate 6.8 million enrolled Democrats to guard all of the dominant party’s extensive turf with the candidates who are offered up.

That’s where the real suspense lies in the months ahead, in light of last November’s slim Democratic turnout, which jarred the party leadership.

n COLUMNIST DAN JANISON’S opinions are his own.


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