Hochul faces the upstater’s challenge
Something unspeakable lurks within Albany’s gleaming and majestic Capitol these days.
Last week, as Kathy Hochul delivered the State of the State address following her election as the state’s first female governor in more than a century, it still permeated the hallways.
A legislative tightrope awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul, reflected in a speech calling for strengthening the public safety concerns that fueled her GOP challenger last November with others that will generate real Democratic enthusiasm, writes Bob McCarthy.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said it all in words.
“She may be governor, but she’ll always be Kathy Hochul from Hamburg,” the North Tonawanda Republican said. “At the end of the day, the city will always say: ‘We run the state.’ She has to face it.”
Ortt, of course, refers to New York City. It is home to 8.5 million people. It dominates the politics, media, culture and finances of a vast and diverse state. And her worldview often mirrors the famous New York cartoon—the one that depicts the known universe ending at the Hudson River, with vague concepts like “Jersey” on the opposite bank and California beyond.
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In her first State of the State address as governor-elect, Kathy Hochul laid out a “groundbreaking strategy” to spur housing development across New York — one in which the state government would seek to overcome resisting local governments. .
Hochul aims to build 800,000 housing units across the state over the next decade, and has laid out a plan that will almost certainly face resistance from local governments and homeowners who don’t want new development. Over the past decade, New York has built only half of Hochul’s scoring.
During a conversation in his Senate minority leader’s office a few days ago, Ortt said what many like to leave alone. He is a partisan Republican who opposes almost everything Hochul stands for. But Ortt tones it down a bit because of what she faces. It stems from a sense, especially among Democrats, he says, that the state’s “nerve center” lies down the Hudson rather than off the Thruway.
“She doesn’t just have to deal with it every time she runs, she has to deal with it every time she’s here,” Ortt said. “I can empathize, because I have to deal with it too, to an extent.
“It’s politics in New York,” he added.
Part of it stems from Hochul’s narrow 6-point win, the closest in three decades. The rest derives from what Ortt calls a “fact of life.”
Others have noted the “city syndrome” in the past. Shortly after his narrow loss to Eliot Spitzer for a second term as attorney general, Hamburg’s Dennis Vacco expressed the same views in 1998. Other than Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, he was the last incumbent to be elected independently in the nationwide post until Hochul last November.
“I didn’t come here to make history,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul. “I came here to make a difference.”
Stung by a defeat that hinged on about 1.7 votes per constituency, Vacco at the time noted a “conciliatory bias” against Buffalo and upstate.
“It’s subtle, but there’s a nationwide political perception that upstate and Buffalo is not where it’s happening,” he said after leaving office in 1998, “that if you’re from Western New York, you’re a little less. “
Still a political insider and successful attorney in Buffalo, Vacco’s views have softened. Asked a few days ago to reflect on Ortt’s views matching his own in 1998, he still believes anyone in Hochul’s position faces a “tricky” challenge. But thrust into the governor’s post after the scandal and resignation of her predecessor, Vacco points to the important fact that Hochul won a statewide election.
“Her victory in November broke the mold on that downstate divide,” he said, though he thinks Hochul might have faced a “different landscape” had she faced Attorney General Tish James in the election. preliminary.
Now, Hochul presides over a state with a Constitution that gives its governor broad powers. She commands the great resources and powers of New York State.
In statements explaining the opposition, Democratic senators have characterized Justice Hector LaSalle’s record as “anti-union” or “anti-worker” and, on the abortion issue, “anti-choice” or “anti-woman.”
“She is a governor. It controls so much,” says Vacco. “But it will be interesting as she navigates the more liberal interests of the downstate.”
Many of those “more liberal interests” — a slew of New York City senators — are vowing to block her nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle as chief justice of the Court of Appeals. Such a reaction seems unprecedented, contributing to that unspoken feeling in the Capitol.
“It will be a test of her strength,” Vacco said. “My feeling is that she will prevail.”
In her State of the State address on Tuesday, Hochul made her mark. She restored a sense of decorum by returning the ritual to the House of Assembly without the glitz and graphics of her predecessor. Republicans and Democrats alike reacted, as did the upper and lower dwellers. Life went on, As for any governor, whether from Hamburg or Harlem.
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