Just as in last year’s mayoral race, New Yorkers can’t complain about a lack of solid choices in the governor’s race this year. If Democratic primary voters, in particular, are secretly as upset about crime, economic distress and population loss as the rest of the state is, they have a chance to show their ire now, or they might end up with — gasp — a Trump-sympathetic Republican governor in the fall.
The nation is in a “Throw the bums” out mood, with polls showing a GOP takeover in the House this fall, as well as the recent successful booting from office of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, running for a term in her own right, isn’t a bum — she is a nice lady.
Two-thirds of state Democrats think so, according to the latest Siena College poll. And no wonder: Twice on the debate stage against primary opponents Tom Suozzi, a Long Island congressman, and Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate, Hochul has shown a serene, unrufflable demeanor of competence and calm.
But how is she performing in office, after nearly a year? On both crime and the budget, she’s shown herself unable to corral the Legislature. Despite a couple welcome tweaks, most of New York state’s 2019-era bail “reform” law still stands; the governor was unable to persuade lawmakers to allow judges to consider public danger in keeping a suspect behind bars.
No, bail reform isn’t the sole culprit behind soaring crime. But the governor has also thrown herself behind Mayor Eric Adams’ subway-safety plan — one light, so far, on arrests for small infractions before they become big ones and heavy on voluntary social services.
Nothing wrong with trying more of the latter — but eventually, the public will desire results. City transit crime is still rising, up by nearly one-third over the past month, compared with last year. And no, that’s not because crime underground was low last year; it soared in March 2020 and has stayed high since.
Economy? New York state is still missing 322,800 private-sector jobs compared with May 2019, or nearly 4% of the total back then. The nation, by contrast, has 1.3 million more private-sector jobs than it did in 2019.
You’d think that Hochul would be working to make New York more economically competitive, including, yes, by cutting income taxes on the wealthier New Yorkers most able and willing to relocate to Florida and other low-tax climes.
Population? The state lost more than 300,000 people from mid-2020 through mid-2021, the highest drop nationwide.
No wonder 51% of New York state voters of any party think the state is going in the wrong direction.
For Democrats who hold this view, the primary offers two alternatives, who usefully fit into neat categories. Suozzi wants to cut taxes, including income taxes, and try harder to get the Legislature to adopt a dangerousness standard for bail. He says he’ll remove any DA who won’t uphold the laws as the Legislature wrote them, such as failing to treat high-value theft as a serious felony.
If, by contrast, you don’t think the state is left-wing enough, you can vote for Williams, who wants even higher taxes on the wealthy, more social spending and less policing.
Yet there’s no indication that Democrats are carefully mulling over their choices. Prospective Democratic primary voters are in a far sunnier mood than voters overall: 52% think the state is on the right track.
If Democrats vote accordingly and send Hochul to the polls to face a GOP candidate in November, they may be in for a surprise when it comes to how independents feel. Independent voters make up a quarter of the electorate statewide — and fewer than one-third approve of Hochul; 59% think the state is on the wrong track.
Moderate Democrats, too, on Long Island and in Westchester County closely track the city’s crime problems. As long as the eventual Republican nominee doesn’t sound too crazy on abortion and guns, the GOP will peel off a few of those voters.
If Democrats are satisfied and complacent now, good for them — somebody should feel good about the state of the state. But they may be feeling less satisfied and complacent come November.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.