With the primary behind her and the sizable war chest needed for her gubernatorial contest only growing, Gov. Kathy Hochul could be forgiven if she believes it’s now a glide to victory in what appears to be a very blue state.
That would be a strategy for defeat.
In truth, New York is politically volatile. While the progressive bastion of New York City has directed much of the state’s current agenda, there is a growing and seething anger among many voters who believe New York is headed in the wrong direction. And for the governor, whether earned or not, that progressive agenda now sits outside her door.
Consider Gov. Mario M. Cuomo’s loss to then-State Sen. George Pataki in 1994. Popular in the Hudson Valley, Pataki was unknown by much of the state’s electorate. Nevertheless, Pataki garnered 48.8% of the vote to Cuomo’s 45.4%. Political historians say Cuomo lost mainly because his support for another term disappeared outside of New York City.
The traditional thinking is that Democrats have an enormous advantage coming out of the city. It contains the vast majority of the state’s population, consistently votes on the Democratic line, and is politically engaged. Some view upstate Democratic bastions as important but not as crucial as voter-rich New York City. It is Long Island, with its enormous population of 2.8 million that can, and does, determine the fate of many statewide candidates. That will be especially true this year.
For Hochul, Long Island is especially problematic.
She entered a political beehive this winter when she endorsed “accessory dwelling units” for Long Island that would see living spaces created out of converted garages, attics and basements, thereby overruling local zoning codes. In a rare display of bipartisan unity, elected officials denounced Hochul’s proposal. It would ultimately die a quiet death but revealed that the governor was unaware of Long Island’s political tripwires.
Now another potential Long Island ambush lurks for the governor. A move by the State Legislature to municipalize the Long Island Power Authority and maintenance of the Island’s power grid would ultimately make her responsible for keeping the lights on when the next hurricane shuts down power for 10 days. It would be her utility.
Her predecessor saw the enormous political liability in this very scenario after Superstorm Sandy in 2012, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an investigation into LIPA’s failed response. “I don’t believe you can fix it,” he said, and switched responsibility for keeping the lights on to companies that would work under contract and whose payday would be based on performance. Hochul could now be presented with a return to a LIPA whose intent seems more empire than efficiency.
Long Islanders have already proved they are willing to cross enrollment depending on the issue. Last November, Democrats crossed over to vote for two Republican district attorneys because of their anger over cashless bail passed by the State Legislature.
As Hochul contemplates LIPA and other regional issues, she should keep on her desk the following numbers: New York City represents 33% of the statewide vote. The Albany Capital District and Buffalo are each 9%. Syracuse is 7% and Rochester is 6%.
Long Island is 17% of the vote — or more, if voters are motivated by crime and energy costs that could go higher under LIPA’s plan.
Now turn their lights off for 10 days.
n THIS GUEST ESSAY reflects the views of Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant and pollster who is working for Republican Rep. Andrew Garbarino in the 2022 cycle.
This guest essay reflects the views of Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant and pollster.