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New York Democrats want Hochul for governor, but are worried about bias and the economy, polls find

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul wears a necklace with the word "vaxed" during an event in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

Kathy Hochul remains the Democratic front-runner in New York’s gubernatorial primary this June, according to a Siena College poll released Tuesday.

Over 800 New York voters were asked whom they would pick in a Democratic primary if it were held today. Hochul held the top spot with 46% of Democrats polled picking her to be the party’s choice for governor.

The runner-up was former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said Monday he would not enter the race, with 12% of support. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams drew 11% of support and Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi polled at 6%.

Hochul’s most competitive Democrat rival for the nomination was State Attorney General Letitia James, who decided to run for a second term next year and withdrew her bid for governor in December.

"With 22 weeks until the primary, it appears Hochul is in the catbird seat to be the Democratic nominee for governor,” said Siena pollster Steven Greenberg.

Greenberg said Hochul also is the top choice with 40% of Democratic voters in New York City and downstate suburban areas, including Long Island, which are the two key areas of the state that any candidate running statewide needs in order to win.

A slate of Republican candidates, including Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, were not ranked by participants. Zeldin was narrowly favored by Republican voters, but a majority of voters did not have a strong opinion on the GOP primary race, yet.

Meanwhile, Hochul delivered her first budget presentation on Tuesday after taking office in August following Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation amid sexual misconduct allegations. The poll found voters backed her proposal to allow restaurants to sell to-go beverages and also support her proposed expansion of job training programs in prisons.

Many of Hochul’s proposals address economic recovery and job creation during the pandemic.

Last week, a new survey on consumer sentiment in New York from Siena College shows that New Yorkers still have a lot of concern about the economy, but they are showing more optimism than the nation as a whole, said Don Levy, the poll’s director.

The latest quarterly survey shows that concerns over inflation in gas and food prices have been weighing on the minds of New Yorkers, which has become a flashpoint for Democrats and Republican candidates for governor.

The survey shows that plans for buying items like cars, trucks and consumer electronics were down slightly. But New Yorkers planning to buy a home or making home improvements was up from the previous quarter.

“Still, New Yorkers remain slightly more optimistic about the future. I think that we’re waiting for Omicron to subside. We continue to believe that the underpinning of our economy is strong, and that we will recover, but right now, New Yorkers are having a tough time,” Levy said.

In addition, whoever is picked as their party’s choice for governor has a divided New York to address.

A third Siena poll looked at whether 800 New York voters think that people of color have the same opportunities as white New Yorkers. It was released on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

It found that most Democrats and a majority of Blacks don’t believe people of color have equal opportunities. It also shows that a majority of whites, Latinos, Republicans and residents of suburbs, including Long Island, think minorities do have equal opportunities.

"While it’s correct to say a small majority of voters think that minority New Yorkers have the same opportunities as white New Yorkers, it is also correct that this question highlights the wide racial, partisan and ideological divides that exist," Greenberg said.

New Yorkers’ views on the state of race relations have slightly improved since last year. Thirty-six percent of voters described it as excellent or good, compared to 31% last year. Sixty percent said race relations are fair or poor, compared to 64% last year. However, more than 70% of voters still said racial and religious minorities, including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews and Muslims, do experience discrimination.

Greenberg also said one-third of New Yorkers feel they were treated unfairly over the last year because of their race, religion, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. That includes 50% of Latinos and 41% of Blacks. This number has remained largely consistent over the past five years.

“Dr. King would have turned 93 this weekend,” said Greenberg. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle. New Yorkers say that struggle persists.”

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.