The two Democrats challenging New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s bid to keep her job criticized her on Tuesday for her past support of the National Rifle Association and the deal she struck to spend hundreds of millions of money taxpayers in a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.
Hochul, appearing in her first debate on Tuesday night, defended the stadium deal and said her stances on guns have evolved in the 10 years since she earned a favorable rating from the NRA as ‘she was running for re-election in a densely Republican district of New York.
“That was about ten years ago. Judge me on what I’ve done because a lot of people have moved on since I took this job,” she said. “You know what we need? More people to evolve.
Hochul has been in office for nine and a half months after becoming governor in August, then governor. Andrew Cuomo has resigned. She is seeking to become the first woman elected to New York’s highest office, but first she must win her party’s June 28 primary contest against U.S. Representative Tom Suozzi of Long Island and the elected public attorney of New York, Jumane Williams.
The governor is seen as the frontrunner in the race, not only because she can claim the position as the person who currently holds the position, but also because she has significant campaign funds and has racked up endorsements, including including support from the state’s Democratic party.
Suozzi, like Hochul, has stuck to predominantly centrist positions. Williams is a progressive who in 2018 put up a tough challenge against Hochul in the race for lieutenant governor.
Williams, a former city councilor who serves as a public ombudsman, said he worked to stop gun violence 10 years ago and said he wishes Hochul had supported him back then.
“We’re 10 years behind because the people in Congress were doing the NRA bidding,” he said.
Suozzi boasted an “F” grade from the NRA and said that while all the candidates on the stage supported the state’s new gun laws, “only one of us standing here has already been approved by the NRA, received money from the NRA.”
Hochul, trying to show she acted quickly amid rising gun violence and a mass shooting in Buffalo last month, pointed to a set of gun bills she signed this week that prohibited anyone under the age of 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle and required micro-stamps on new firearms, which would leave individual identifiers on casings fired from these weapons.
“I have been governor for nine months. I did it in record time,” she said.
She also defended her plan to spend $850 million in taxpayer dollars on a new stadium for her hometown Buffalo Bills.
The deal has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for giving so much public money to a private company – in this case, the Buffalo Bills, which are owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula. Good government groups and other critics have also noted that there could be a conflict of interest because Hochul’s husband works as a senior vice president and general counsel for Bills’ dealership, Delaware North.
Both Suozzi and Williams repeated those criticisms early in the debate.
“We need someone who will stop the budget and say we need more money for gun violence prevention, not some billionaire to build a stadium outside of Buffalo,” said Williams.
Hochul, a Buffalo native and Bills fan, said the stadium deal will create jobs and benefit New York economically. She also said there was no connection between her husband’s business and the deal.
“They literally sell beer and hot dogs at games. They had nothing to do with the negotiations,” she said. She added: “I am proud of his work. His ethics are second to none, just like mine.
Williams and Suozzi took part in a debate last week in which they criticized Hochul for not participating. His campaign said it was instead focused on the end of the legislative session.
The trio are set to meet in another debate on June 16 sponsored by WNBC-TV, Telemundo and the Albany Times Union.