Chosen ones overshadow primary challengers

Businessman Harry Wilson, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, face off during New York's Republican gubernatorial debate at the studios of Spectrum News NY1 on Monday, June 20, 2022, in New York. (Brittainy Newman/Newsday via AP, Pool)

New York state’s primary race for governor that ends Tuesday evening is nowhere near as rousing as it should be. Party favorites who include incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican front-runner Lee Zeldin have controlled the message and campaign in recent months.

So bright have their stars shined that few, even the most loyal of party followers, know much about their challengers. In a state as troubled as ours, that is a real shame.

Though Hochul has Western New York roots, there’s no doubt the cloud from her predecessor in Andrew Cuomo remains. While claiming she has maintained a distance from the tarnished Cuomo, there are similarities between the two that include the overuse of emergency powers gained by executive branch during the early stages of COVID-19 and a lack of dialogue and transparency during the state budget negotiations.

On those issues alone, it’s troubling to look back on Hochul’s less than one-year efforts at the top to create a more open New York. Last November, she issued a “transparency implementation plan” that addressed decades of closed-door budget worries.

One of those talking points included “public hearings covering the full scope of the budget and its proposals and giving members of the public the opportunity to have their voices heard.” With all the confusion and chaos that took place in early April this year in passing the spending plan, that never took place.

Nonetheless, county Democrats last week announced their endorsement for the current leader who is opposing Thomas Suozzi, U.S. representative for Long Island, and Jumanne Williams, New York City Public Advocate.

“Kathy Hochul was an excellent lieutenant governor and is hugely supportive of our Chautauqua County community as governor,” said acting Democrat chair and Dunkirk Mayor Wilfred Rosas. “She’s promoted economic development programs that will benefit our Chautauqua County community, supported infrastructure funding for roads and bridges, clean water, and clean renewable energy, and worked with the Legislature to address gun safety in the wake of the hateful racist murder of 10 Buffalo residents, and strengthen reproductive rights in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.”

On the other side, signs of support for Zeldin are sparse but evident throughout parts of this county that continues to strongly lean right. Overall, Zeldin’s campaign says recent polls show him having a 21-point advantage over three Republican challengers Rob Astorino, Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani.

Of those four candidates, an uninspiring Zeldin was the safest for the Republicans. He’s loyal to the party and rarely speaks out of turn. His major issues include focusing on putting communities before criminals, cutting taxes and energy costs while ending the COVID-19 mandates and enforcing voter ID.

Some discontent, however, was noted on Tuesday in a debate in Rochester. At one point during the event held in the Kodak Center, Zeldin was booed loudly for a perceived recent lack of support for former President Trump.

Both Zeldin and Hochul, unfortunately, did not take part in a Zoom conference call in May with media through the Committee on Open Government for New York state. Only Astorino, Suozzi and Wilson spoke to the group about their platform and objectives to better the Empire State.

¯ Astorino, who was defeated by Cuomo in his run for governor in 2014, has received some glowing reviews despite low polling numers. He said he is a strong advocate for open meetings and government and as Westchester County executive, he began making all agendas and meetings available online. “I’m a big believer in the public having the right to question their government,” he said. “That is a fundamental principle of our democracy.”

¯ Suozzi spoke with passion about changing the culture in Albany. “I’m a common-sense Democrat. I’m not going to pander to the left, not going to back down to the right. I’m going to work with anybody who wants to help people.” He focused on crime, taxes and affordability, helping troubled schools and helping to correct “the most corrupt state in the United States of America.”

¯ Wilson is by far the most intriguing of the candidates. He entered the campaign one week before Zeldin was selected. His history includes 30 years leading the turnaround of failed organizations, including General Motors and Yahoo! “I think in a broken New York, that American dream that should be available to all our kids dies,” he said. “That’s why I’m running. I will not let a failed class of career politicians destroy that dream.”

Wilson’s point is well taken. In a country where the populous often complains about representation, incumbents with name recognition usually are re-elected no matter what their record.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.


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