NBC New York said Monday that it plans to host a TV debate in the Democratic primary for governor on June 16, but Gov. Hochul’s campaign declined to say if she will attend.
The governor holds a commanding lead in the race, according to polling. Jerrel Harvey, a spokesman for Hochul, said her campaign was weighing whether to participate in the debate.
Hochul, a moderate former congresswoman, is facing long-shot challenges from city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep.Tom Suozzi (DN.Y.), representing Long Island. Williams is running to Hochul’s left, and Suozzi is running to her right.
Williams and Suozzi both plan to attend the June 16 debate, their campaigns said Monday. Candidates in the primary are not required by law to participate in any of the debates, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections.
In a statement, Suozzi said: “Democracy only works when there is a debate over who has the best ability, experience and ideas to lift people up. Let’s have that debate!”
NBC New York’s debate is set to take place in the station’s Rockefeller Center Studios two days before early voting begins for the election, the network said. Primary Day is June 28.
NBC New York said the hosts of the debate would include David Ushery and Melissa Russo, two of its journalists; Allan Villafana, a host on WNJU-TV; and Casey Seiler, editor in chief of the Albany Times Union.
In a Siena College survey of the race conducted last month, Hochul captured 52% of the vote, Williams garnered 12% and Suozzi scored 11%. Another 19% of respondents said they were not sure or did not have an opinion.
Hochul has since been dogged by criticism of her handling of the state budget, particularly an agreement that would send $600 million in state funds towards a new Buffalo Bills stadium.
And she is now campaigning without a running mate after her lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, was arrested in a corruption probe and resigned from office last week.
Both the budget and Benjamin’s ignominious exit offered fresh fodder for rivals. Hochul has defended her decision to back Benjamin up until his arrest, saying that the charges against him blindsided her.
Last Wednesday, she said his indictment was a “complete shock” to her.
“We’re going to move past this,” the governor said in a news conference. “We’re going to see if there’s any areas in the vetting process that can be enhanced.”
She selected Benjamin, a former state senator from Harlem, as her second-in-command in the summer, after she replaced the resigning Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Benjamin, who pleaded not guilty, was charged with bribery and fraud in Manhattan federal court.
Hochul served as lieutenant governor for the last half-decade of Cuomo’s governorship, before a hail of sexual harassment allegations drove him out of office.
In a possible preview of a debate attack line, Williams hammered Hochul on Thursday over the Benjamin entanglement.
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“At some point, continuing to say, ‘I didn’t know,’ either shows an aloofness, or it shows an inadequacy,” Williams said in a news conference at City Hall. “Both of those things mean you don’t have the ability to serve right now.”