NEW YORK (PIX11) — Just days before New Yorkers were set to choose the party nominees in the race for governor, the Democratic candidates joined PIX11 News on Saturday to share their views on public safety, the economy, and more.
Incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joined the PIX11 forum.
Hochul, who took over as governor last year following the resignation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is the overwhelming favorite, garnering the support of 57% of Democratic respondents to an exclusive PIX11 poll conducted in partnership with The Hill and Emerson College Polling. Suozzi amassed 17% and Williams had 6%, with 20% of voters undecided.
Here are five takeaways from PIX11’s Democratic gubernatorial forum:
Crime on the NYC subway:
Though crime continues to be a problem in New York City’s subway system, Hochul defended the safety plan that she announced earlier this year in conjunction with Mayor Eric Adams as a work in progress. Suozzi said that Hochul talked the talk by vowing more police and greater enforcement against homeless people on trains, but has failed to walk the walk and follow through on the pledge. While acknowledging that many New York commuters don’t feel safe underground, Williams said that the answer had to go beyond increasing police presence, calling for more robust mental health services and long-term solutions to homelessness.
Both Suozzi and Williams called for the long-delayed rollout of congestion pricing in Manhattan, a measure that Hochul has said is off the table until at least mid-2023. Proponents say that the controversial plan, which would charge most drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, would reduce traffic, generate billions of dollars in revenue, and help fight pollution. Suozzi said that he would implement congestion pricing during his term, but that subway crime must first be reduced so commuters have a safer alternative to driving. Williams was more bullish, saying, “It absolutely is the right time to do it.”
The Democratic Party’s future:
Hochul and Suozzi said that it was important to bridge the seemingly widening gap between progressives and more moderate Democrats for the long-term good of the party. Hochul warned that the two factions must find common ground to avoid becoming like the GOP, which she claimed no longer has any moderates. Suozzi vowed to work with politicians of any affiliation for the good of New York, including not just Democrats of any stripe but Republicans as well. Williams, however, claimed that voters are fed up with “status quo elected officials.”
With everyday New Yorkers feeling the squeeze of inflation, Hochul said that she would consider extending the partial statewide suspension of the gas tax into 2023 if elected. She has already reduced the tax for the remainder of this year. Suozzi said that Hochul did not go far enough and should have shelved the tax entirely. He also called for an overall reduction in New York State taxes, but did not provide specifics. Williams said that billionaires should carry a greater tax burden than they presently do, and called for greater job creation initiatives.
Pandemic rent relief:
If elected to her first full term, Hochul said that she would extend emergency assistance for New Yorkers facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while also voicing sympathy for small landlords who have struggled to collect rent as part of the ripple effect. Williams agreed, also touting a plan that he said would create 1 million units of affordable housing within 10 years. Suozzi, however, said that it was time for the rental assistance program to end, alleging that “quite frankly, a lot of people abused that system.”
What’s next in the elections:
The primary for both parties will be held on June 28. Then, the march begins to the general election on Nov. 8.