It was in a very different context than this year’s Democratic primary for lieutenant governor that actor Mike Myers asked, “Who does No. 2 work for?” But, in less puerile form, that’s the question that defines the race between Kathy Hochul and Jumaane Williams.
Hochul, a former Congresswoman who has served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lieutenant since 2015, believes the job is to help achieve the governor’s agenda. Williams, a City Councilmember from Brooklyn, says he’d use the post to challenge the governor and try to move state policy left.
On the Max & Murphy show on Wednesday, both candidates argued their vision for the job, whose duties under the state constitution include presiding over the State Senate and taking over if the governor vacates the office.
Their differences are not just about the future: They also take radically different views of Cuomo’s mark on the state during his nearly eight years in office. Hochul praised her boss’s work at getting the SAFE Act, a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and the Excelsior scholarship passed. Williams criticized Cuomo for being a follower tainted by corruption scandals and eyeing national office.
Despite being the incumbent, Hochul entered the race with little name recognition because of the low-profile nature of the job. But her prodigious fundraising has given her the ability to get on television—the ultimate cure for anonymity. As of the most recent filings with the New York State board of elections, Hochul had $390,000 on hand compared with $72,000 for Williams. But the Brooklyn lawmaker, who lost a race for Council speaker in December, says he has enough in the kitty to win.
On one hand, Williams’ conception of the No. 2 post appears unprecedented and is fraught with potential problems. He wouldn’t be the first lieutenant governor to have a rocky relationship with his No. 1—Alfred DelBello was the running mate of the Mario Cuomo’s 1982 primary rival Ed Koch, ended up as the elder Cuomo’s LG, developed no rapport with the governor and departed after two years. But Williams would be the first to seek the office as an avowed enemy of the governor. It’s unclear how that might affect the fall campaign, when—depending on how the primary goes—Cuomo and Williams could be running mates.
On the other hand, these are unusual times. Already equipped with massive powers in New York’s strong-governor system, Cuomo has capitalized on the state’s pathetic campaign-finance laws to accrue a huge war chest that makes a frontal challenge difficult. A Cuomo ally could win the attorney general’s race, and the state Senate could remain closely split, neutering progressive Dems’ hopes to push the governor left. Given those contours, a novel gambit like Williams’s might be the kind of unorthodox move primary voters are willing to make. We’ll find out in eight days.
Listen to both candidates here. Hochul’s chat begins at 5:00 and Williams’s at 24:30 or so: