NEW YORK — U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed Gov. Kathy Hochul in the race for New York’s highest office on Monday.
It’s the most prominent endorsement yet for Hochul as she looks to secure the Democratic nomination and win the governorship in her own right. Her predecessor Andrew Cuomo resigned last summer amid sexual harassment allegations.
Gillibrand, who has made women’s rights a core tenet of her public advocacy, applauded New York’s first female governor. Gillibrand cited Hochul’s defense of abortion rights — directing state agencies to make it clear women have the right to an abortion — as well as her expansion of paid leave to also allow time off to care for a sibling.
“Kathy Hochul is a proven leader with the know-how, work ethic, and passion for public service to deliver results for New Yorkers in every community,” Gillibrand said.
Hochul was relatively unknown when she ascended to the governor’s office in August, and was initially expected to face a tough battle for her party’s nomination, especially when Attorney General Letitia James briefly joined the race last fall. But months ahead of the June primary, James has dropped out, choosing instead to run for reelection. Meanwhile, Hochul has solidified her position as the front-runner — leading in the polls, amassing $22 million in campaign donations and the backing of a number of prominent unions and political figures.
She’s being challenged by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat representing Long Island, and New York City’s elected public advocate Jumaane Williams, the most progressive candidate in the race.
It’s not the first time Williams has challenged Hochul in a statewide election. He ran against her in the 2018 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor but lost by less than seven points. That was a much narrower defeat for the party’s progressive flank than in the governor’s race, where Cuomo handily beat actress Cynthia Nixon.
But this year, Hochul is in a much stronger position than in 2018, running with the advantages of an incumbent, which helps with fundraising and endorsements, said Ester Fuchs, a professor of international and public affairs and political science at Columbia University.
“I think she’s positioned extremely well. If I was a betting woman, I’d certainly bet on her,” Fuchs said.
Williams, who last week won the endorsement of the progressive Working Families Party, is running to the left of Hochul. But Fuchs says the political landscape has shifted since their 2018 race, pointing out that New York’s pandemic-battered economy and high-profile violent crimes have voters looking for plans that are more pragmatic than progressive.
State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs said this shift helped carry New York City Mayor Eric Adams — a former NYPD police captain — to victory in 2021. Jacobs also pointed to last year’s race for mayor in Buffalo, where four-term Mayor Byron Brown won with a write-in campaign after losing his party’s primary to democratic socialist India Walton.
“The Democratic electorate has demonstrated that it’s more supportive of a more moderate approach, and I think that will carry forward,” said Jacobs, who endorsed Hochul early.
Suozzi, a moderate like Hochul, has tried to portray the governor as not being tough enough on crime. But Jacob and Fuchs say the congressman will struggle to draw a contrast with Hochul when both candidates occupy a middle-road stance.
Fuchs said there’s still a ways to go until the June primary, meaning the governor can’t afford to make any mistakes.
“She has a primary fight, so it’s not like she’s going to just waltz in,” Fuchs said. “She can’t trip.”