Hochul plays defense in Dem primary debate for governor

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Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (left), Governor Kathy Hochul and Congress Member Tom Suozzi in the CBS2 New York Democratic gubernatorial debate. Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
Screenshot by Ethan Stark-Miller via CBS2 New York

Governor Kathy Hochul fielded a barrage of attacks from her left and right Tuesday night, as she took the debate stage against her Democratic governor rivals Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Congress Member Tom Suozzi (D– Long Island, Queens) for the first time.

Hochul attended the CBS New York debate, moderated by CBS political reporter Marcia Kramer and anchor Maurice DuBois, Tuesday night after sitting out a Spectrum News debate last week. Williams and Suozzi both attended that debate and spent most of the night lobbing attacks at the governor in her absence instead of each other.

The debate started off with Williams and Suozzi both blasting Hochul’s record on addressing gun violence and mass shootings. Williams criticized a Monday press conference Hochul held to sign a series of gun control bills, passed at the end of the state legislative session in response to recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde Texas, into law. He appeared to be labeling it as performative, comparing it to daily COVID-19 press conferences Hochuls predecessor Andrew Cuomo held at the beginning of the pandemic.

“When I saw the bill signing yesterday, and it’s already a commercial now, it reminded me of the Cuomo press conferences during the pandemic,” Williams said.

Williams said that the legislative package – which includes bills that raise the age for buying an assault rifle to 21, ban the sale of body armor to civilians and require microstamping for ammunition – primarily address mass shootings and not the street crime areas like the Bronx experience every day. He and Suozzi also attacked Hochul for getting an A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) when she represented part of western New York in Congress 10 years ago.

Hochul fired back, saying she’s evolved from supporting gun rights and that “no governor has done more in less time than I have to address gun violence, than I have.” In addition to this package of bills, Hochul said, her administration successfully pushed for a series of rollbacks to bail reform laws passed in 2019 in this year’s budget that will further curb gun violence on the street level.

“What we did on bail reform, we came up with more standards than judges have ever had in the last few years since it was changed,” Hochul said. “They can look at past history, the seriousness of the crime, whether or not there was an order of protection before, whether or not a gun was used. So, we gave judges the power to analyze this and look at it differently before we made those changes.”

Suozzi jumped in, accusing Hochul of not doing nearly enough to change bail reform – particularly for not passing legislation that would allow judges to consider a suspected perpetrator’s “dangerousness” when setting bail. Instead, Suozzi said the governor sunk her political capital during budget negotiations into a deal to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills with $850 million in taxpayer money.

“When it came to the Buffalo Bills stadium, she got something done that nobody thought could get done,” Suozzi said. “It’s so unpopular. It’s a billion dollars. Most lucrative deal in the history of the NFL. She got that done, she twisted arms. But when it came to bail reform, she didn’t engage. When it came to so many other issues that are important to New Yorkers, like enforcing and implementing the Red Flag Law. She didn’t engage.”

Suozzi also blasted the Bills stadium deal for being negotiated behind closed doors and being announced only four days before the budget was due. Additionally, Suozzi said it is ethically dubious that Hochul’s husband, William Hochul is general counsel for Delaware North, the company that runs concessions for the current Bills stadium.

All of this, plus the arrest and indictment of Hochul’s first lieutenant governor – Brian Benjamin – shows the ethical murkiness of Hochul’s administration, Suozzi said.

“New Yorkers had such high hopes when the governor took office,” Suozzi said. “And she pledged to make it the most ethical, the most transparent government in the history of New York State. And that simply hasn’t happened.”

Hochul responded that Delaware North sells concessions around the globe and had nothing to do with the stadium deal. Additionally, Hochul said she and her husband have always kept a separation between their home and work lives.

Suozzi is currently facing his own ethics probe from the House Committee on Ethics over his failure to disclose stock transactions in a timely manner. He said it’s just a “paperwork error” that’s been corrected.

The three candidates also fielded questions on addressing the ongoing mental health crisis across the state, whether congestion pricing should be enacted right now or delayed, the future of remote work and whether state dollars should fund abortion services for people coming to New York for the service from out of state.

The Democratic primary for governor, other state-wide offices and Assembly is on June 28, while the primary for Congress and state Senate is on August 23.