ALBANY — When Democratic voters go to the polls Thursday, the main event will be the primary between incumbent Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and actress Cynthia Nixon. But a lesser-watched race just down the ballot has a much greater chance to shake up New York’s politics.
Incumbent Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul – a former congresswoman from western New York who had been Cuomo’s running mate in 2014 – is facing a fierce challenge from Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, who is serving his third term as a New York City councilman.
Williams, who previously was a tenants-rights organizer, is a well-known liberal activist and has often been arrested at protests. As a lawmaker, he is credited with helping pass a number of laws, from protecting tenants in New York City to reforming the New York Police Department’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices.
Running as a team with Nixon, Williams has the support of the liberal Working Families Party and received a major endorsement last week when the New York Times endorsed him for the job, calling him “an independent-minded New York City Council member, (who) has shown that he can be a real leader and is the right choice for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary …”
In that same endorsement, the Times’ editorial board characterized Hochul as “little more than an echo for Gov. Andrew Cuomo,” noting that during a debate with Williams she could not recall a single instance where she had opposed one of Cuomo’s policies or “changed the governor’s mind on an issue.”
Hochul has spent heavily from her ample campaign fund and is clearly taking her poorly-funded challenger seriously. In recent months, she has been a fixture in New York City, where Williams is better-known and has garnered significant support in the state’s Democratic epicenter.
If Williams pulled off the upset, he could use the office to challenge the governor — and Albany’s status quo — and also use it as a sounding board to press his positions on affordable housing, healthcare, eduction, criminal justice reform and voting rights.
The outcome of the race could also have a substantial impact on the race for governor in November because of the way that ballots are counted in New York elections. While the governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the primary, in the general election, they run as a ticket.
If Cuomo wins as expected, while Williams scores an upset, they would appear together on the Democratic ticket in the November general election.
But Cuomo and Hochul are the nominees of the Independence and Womens’ Equality parties, and votes for Cuomo-Hochul on those ballot lines would count separately – and not be added together with the Cuomo-Williams votes.
If that scenario plays out, it could help provide a path to victory for Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive.
It is possible, but not guaranteed, that legal maneuvering by Democrats to get the losing Democratic primary candidates off ballot lines could occur. For instance, candidates could be nominated for judgeships or other offices that would allow their removal from those lines.
If Williams is…