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Hochul's New York primary opponents make pitch for more diverse voices

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaks during an interview with The Associated Press, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

At the state Democratic Party convention, where Gov. Kathy Hochul was expected to be nominated for election Thursday, her two primary rivals — Tom Suozzi and Jumaane Williams — addressed the delegates at a breakfast, saying the party needs to listen to more voices if it wants to succeed in 2022.

The media was barred from the delegates’ breakfast, but Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi streamed his speech live on his Facebook page. He told the audience that many of them had tried to dissuade him from challenging Hochul, including the event’s keynote speaker, former first lady, U.S. senator and 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

“I spoke with our keynote speaker today, Hillary Clinton, a few months ago. She tried to persuade me not to run,” Suozzi told the delegates.

Afterward, speaking with reporters, Suozzi said it’s not the first time that high-ranking Democratic Party members have tried to talk him out of running for something. He said some attempted to dissuade him from running for Nassau County executive and for Congress, both positions that he won.

He said in all of the instances, he didn’t listen.

“Because I feel so strongly that the country is in a lot of trouble, that people are not talking to each other, that the state’s in a lot of trouble,” Suozzi said. “And we have a problem with the Democratic Party. That we are not talking to the people about the issues that they really care about.”

Suozzi said voters are worried about the rising crime rate, high taxes, troubled schools and high utility bills. And he said Hochul’s proposal to override local zoning laws to allow accessory dwelling units — mini houses on existing homeowners’ properties — is a “debacle.”

Many of those issues are of concern to people living in New York City’s suburbs, who have been a key swing vote in past elections. In 2021, Suozzi’s home county of Nassau saw big Republican wins. One day before the Democratic convention, state Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Rep. Kathleen Rice, both Democrats from Long Island, announced that they are not seeking re-election this year.

Suozzi appeared with his running mate, Diana Reyna, a former New York City Council member who once served as deputy to New York City Mayor Eric Adams when Adams was the Brooklyn borough president. Reyna is of Dominican heritage and like Suozzi, whose father came from Italy, is a first-generation American. She said she also wants to take a stand.

“This is about making sure that there is a common-sense approach,” Reyna said. “People are tired of the lies. People are tired of being told that everything’s going to be get better, and nothing gets better.”

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also spoke to the delegates, then met with the media. Williams has championed issues like affordable housing and fair treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system, including ending discriminatory policing. He criticized the convention for protecting incumbents at the expense of diverse voices.

“We all know it’s kind of pageantry here; it’s set up for the incumbents,” said Williams, who added his message is for “working New Yorkers.”

“They understand we can’t go back to normal,” Williams said. “Normal is what got us here. Normal didn't work.”

Williams said a controversy that arose Wednesday, when the initial convention roster included no Latino speakers, is an example of the party neglecting parts of its constituency. Several Latino speakers were added late Wednesday evening.

And Williams, a progressive Democrat who has gained the endorsement of the Working Families Party, credits successful GOP candidates on Long Island and elsewhere who are running against business as usual.

“The (Republicans) have leaned into those kinds of candidates,” Williams said. “And they’ve been whooping the Democrats’ behind.”

Neither Williams nor Suozzi was given the customary 25% of the delegates’ approval to place them automatically on the primary ballot. Suozzi, who joked at the delegates’ breakfast that he had about as much chance of winning the 25% from the party as he did at a meeting of Russian President Putin’s General Assembly, said it isn’t fair.

“I’m not some yahoo candidate; Jumaane Williams is not some yahoo candidate,” Suozzi said. “We are elected officials. We’ve been around for a long time.”

Suozzi said he expects to successfully collect the 15,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.

Williams said it could even be an advantage to petition.

“It’s a great opportunity to organize on the ground, speak to people,” Williams said. “Have them commit, in their minds, by signing the petition.”

Williams petitioned his way onto the 2018 Democratic primary ballot for lieutenant governor, where he gained 47% of the vote against the winner, then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.