Churchill: Stumbling Hochul gives Suozzi hope

Publication: Times union
By: Chris Chuchill

ALBANY — Tom Suozzi’s late November announcement that he would run for governor was mostly met with confusion and indifference, in part because it was difficult to think of a rationale for the Democrat’s campaign.

At the time, Gov. Kathy Hochul was riding high in polls and raising piles of money. The notion that Suozzi — or any other challenger not named Tish James — would poise a threat seemed farfetched. Why was the congressman from Long Island wasting his time and ours?

Five months later, the landscape has changed. Hochul no longer looks so formidable.

In a Siena College Research Institute poll released last week, only 36 percent of voters approved of Hochul’s performance, and the governor scored especially poorly on the two issues — crime and the economy — that voters identified as their top concern.

Meanwhile, just 40 percent of voters said they would vote for Hochul if she’s the Democratic nominee. Forty-five percent preferred “someone else.”

Those poll numbers are the political equivalent of the warning signs that try to prevent trucks from crashing into the Glenridge Road rail bridge. At the moment, Hochul looks like she’s driving an 18-wheeler right at it.

That gives Suozzi’s challenge the rationale it once lacked.

“If the Democrats want to win in November, Kathy Hochul should not be the nominee, and I should,” Suozzi, 59, told me. “They (the Republicans) are not going to beat me on Long Island. They’re not going to beat me in the suburbs.”

I imagine that if we gave Republican candidates such as Lee Zeldin and Harry Wilson doses of truth serum, they’d admit Suozzi isn’t the candidate they want to face. After all, the issues he’s emphasizing, including cutting crime and taxes, are the very same ones they’d like to highlight.

“Those are the issues people are concerned about, and we’re in trouble as a party if we don’t start talking about them,” Suozzi said. “And I don’t talk about these issues like I’m Fox News. I talk about them like a lifelong, common-sense Democrat.”

Suozzi has pushed Hochul to more aggressively tackle concerns about bail reform, and says she treats rising crime like an afterthought. He wants to cut state income taxes by 10 percent “so people can afford to live here,” and says Hochul’s recently passed budget doesn’t do nearly enough to prepare for looming fiscal crises.

And the congressman is another voice in the chorus singing against the governor’s stadium giveaway to the Buffalo Bills.

“We’re giving a billion dollars to her friends in Buffalo so that they wouldn’t leave,” Suozzi said. “What are we doing to keep people from leaving?”

Not enough, surely.

Since all readers of this column are astute observers of the political landscape, you’ve probably noticed that Suozzi is challenging Hochul from the right. Which raises a question: Is that what voters in the upcoming primary will want?

Progressives have a candidate in New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, which suggests that Suozzi and Hochul will be fighting for more moderate voters.