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Hochul, Suozzi, Williams exchange blows in final Dem gubernatorial primary debate

Gov. Kathy Hochul sustained repeated blows from rivals Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi in the final debate ahead of the June 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary. 

Williams and Suozzi (D-Nassau) repeatedly jabbed at touchy subjects like rising crime, skyrocketing rents and her past support from the NRA and decade-old views on illegal immigration. 

“The governor said she would set up an ICE post and arrest people who came to apply for government services. And there’s a thru line to now,” Williams said in reference to Hochul’s time as Erie County clerk. 

“She didn’t evolve after Columbine. She didn’t evolve after Virginia Tech. Only thing that evolves are the governor’s political ambitions,” Suozzi said of her record on gun control while invoking mass shootings in past decades. 

The governor swung back at her male challengers to her left and right. 

“You’re not really in a position to lecture anybody about ethics, Congressman,” Hochul said to Suozzi in reference to an ongoing congressional investigation of past stock trades. 

“It’s my turn to answer … please, stop interrupting me,” Hochul said to Suozzi at another point. 

Congressman Tom Suozzi answers a question during a debate with Jumaane Williams and Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Reuters/Craig Ruttle

The back and forth swings between Suozzi and Hochul included a clash over her appointment of the federally-indicted ex-Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin as well as her controversial support for $850 million in public money to fund a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

“I don’t have a corruption scandal, but I would like some time if possible,” Jumaane Williams said.

He and Suozzi entered the debate, hosted by NBC 4 New York, Telemundo 47 and the Times Union, facing long odds of toppling Hochul from her frontrunner status based on polling, fundraising and endorsements from Democratic powerbrokers. 

“The governor has all the endorsements because she’s got $30 million in the bank that she raised from lobbyists from people trying to get a cannabis license from nursing homes and from developers, she’s got all the inside game going,” Suozzi said. 

A Siena Poll released Thursday showed big majorities of New Yorkers believing the state and country were heading in the wrong direction under Democratic rule. 

Republicans are hoping to harness the prevailing political winds to win their first statewide election in two decades, with a four-way race in their own primary this year. 

Early voting begins this Saturday and the primary is June 28. 

The Thursday Democratic debate began with the moderators asking the candidates for elevator pitches to highlight why they feel optimistic about the state. 

“We’ve always demonstrated our resiliency, our tenacity. It’s in our DNA as a New Yorker. So that’s my elevator speech,” Hochul said. 

But the knives soon came out from the challengers. 

“This happy talk that the governor is doing is not realistic. It’s a pretension,” Suozzi said of Hochul’s defense of her record on homelessness. 

Hochul meanwhile focused on presenting her record in a good light while avoiding definitive stands on controversial issues like capping rents statewide or her upcoming response to a likely Supreme Court decision striking down state rules on concealed weapons. 

“I have to see what basis they used to strike down a law and then we’ll figure out what the answer is,” Hochul said. 

Hochul also offered a change in tone on congestion pricing, which she emphatically endorsed after saying federal red tape would delay it for at least a year during the first debate.

She threw President Joe Biden under the bus on the issue last week as well.

“I support congestion pricing 100 percent, I’m not sure where the allegation came that I don’t,” Hochul said, adding that she had a meeting with federal officials Thursday to try to cut through some of the environmental review requirements that have held up the rollout.

The MTA is banking on the money to pay for its multi-billion dollar program to overhaul and computerize the subway system’s signals, making them more reliable and allowing the agency to run trains more quickly and more closely together.

Political experts say that Suozzi and Williams face long odds of beating Hochul at this point – especially if one of them cannot land a knock-out blow Thursday night. 

New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaks as he faces off with opponents during a New York governor primary debate.
AP/Craig Ruttle

“Based on public polling, endorsements, and fundraising it would take an actual miracle, rather than a Hail Mary, for the governor to lose this primary,” Democratic consultant Evan Stavisky said in a text before the debate began. 

That did not appear to happen Thursday night despite all the ways her opponents tried to turn her advantages into vulnerabilities. 

“When she says she’s handing out all this money to people, that money came from the federal government,” Suozzi said in reference to Hochul’s recent bragging about social services spending in the state budget.

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