ALBANY, N.Y. — New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is moving closer to challenging Gov. Kathy Hochul in a Democratic primary next year, saying he’ll soon be touring the state as he weighs a bid.
“We’re announcing an official exploratory committee for the governor of the state of New York,” Williams said in an interview. “And that means we’re going to take some time to run around the state, speak to some folks, open up an advisory committee, open up an account, start talking about policy.”
Williams, a popular figure in New York’s progressive circles, said his campaign isn’t about “running against anyone, it’s really about running for something.”
“We are presenting a vision of a different type of Albany. As we start to recover and renew New York, we don’t want to return back to normal because normal didn’t work for most New Yorkers,” he said. “And in order to do that … you have to make a complete change of who is there, particularly in that position [of governor], so we’re going to present that vision to the people.”
Williams ran against Hochul in a primary for lieutenant governor in 2018. She defeated him by seven points. He ran on a ticket with gubernatorial aspirant Cynthia Nixon, capturing the attention of the party’s left wing, while Hochul was backed by the state Democratic Committee’s machinery. Much of the campaign was defined by Williams hammering Hochul for her alliance with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Hochul attacking the him for past views on abortion and same-sex marriage that she said fell short of full-fledged support.
Williams outpolled Hochul in Brooklyn and Manhattan, but the now-governor won nearly every other county in the state.
Williams said that though he has experience outside of New York City — he pointed to his previous role heading up NYS Tenants & Neighbors, a statewide organization that fights for tenants’ rights — he will need to start earlier this time to create support networks across the state.
“A lesson learned from 2018 is that we want to begin to build a lot of infrastructure in a way that we didn’t a few years ago,” he said.
The public advocate has since increased his presence upstate, spending some of his summer fundraising and holding events on topics like gun violence with fellow progressives.
Hochul, who became New York’s first woman governor after Cuomo resigned in August, did not acknowledge a question about Williams’ candidacy while walking into the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon.
Williams is the first public official to openly prepare a primary race against Hochul. But he likely won’t be the last, as different factions and leaders attempt to rearrange New York’s political landscape in a post-Cuomo world.
The most formidable potential challenger is widely considered to be Attorney General Tish James. When asked last week about her 2022 plans, James said that she “enjoy[s] serving in the office of the New York state attorney general and it’s entirely up to the people of the state of New York.”
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone have also been musing about a campaign. So has outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. And there’s a long list of other names.
When asked on Tuesday, de Blasio said he’s not surprised to hear Williams may be jumping in — and suggested he’s still considering his own bid.
“I respect Jumaane Williams a lot. We have a good long history together, but we also obviously have areas we disagree,” de Blasio told reporters. The mayor said he intends to stay in public service after his term expires at the end of the year and is still weighing “the best way I can serve going forward.”
Erin Durkin contributed to this report.