An annual dinner held by the Bronx Democratic Party on Wednesday night capped the first day to the unofficial start of the gubernatorial race, with three possible candidates joining the state’s current governor in praising a borough likely to play a not insignificant role during the 2022 race.
The fundraiser brought state Attorney General Letitia James, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams—elected officials who've either explicitly or are rumored to have expressed an interest in the state's top post—into the same room as Governor Kathy Hochul, who has already said she’s running.
The event—postponed last year because of the pandemic—had the makings of a reunion of sorts for a political class that's been left to operate through virtual gatherings and outdoor events. Held inside a catering hall in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx, it was attended by hundreds of people who were required to show proof of vaccination to enter.
While prospective candidates left politics off the table when it came time for them to speak, opting instead to highlight the Bronx’s notable milestones in recent years, their appearance was viewed as a way of laying the groundwork for the primary race that will likely be decided in New York City.
“It got into full swing yesterday,” George Arzt, a veteran Democratic strategist, told Gothamist/WNYC. “They’re there to meet the elected ... officials, to meet the activists of the party to say, ‘Look at me. I’m running.’ And they’re hoping to garner support from the hierarchy of the party.”
Hear David Cruz's report on the Bronx Democratic Party dinner on WNYC.
The dinner wasn't the only event Wednesday that generated buzz around the race. Earlier in the day, James was a guest at the Association for a Better New York (ABNY), in which she was coy on her gubernatorial ambitions. As that was happening, de Blasio repeatedly sidestepped questions during a press briefing on whether he'll run for governor, saying, like James, that he's focused on his current job. A few hours later, Williams was at a news conference with Assemblymember Ron Kim supporting a state bill that took aim at former Governor Andrew Cuomo's executive order to send patients recovering from COVID back to nursing homes. There, he said his exploratory committee and statewide listening sessions will determine whether he proceeds with a run.
Arzt noted this to be the phase in which potential candidates seek to generate enough support that translates to campaign contributions. Hochul, for instance, said she intends to raise $25 million for her run, according to the New York Times. At the news conference with Kim, Williams said he was not worried over how much money he will need to raise to mount a run. In an interview with Gothamist/WNYC, Williams said his 2018 run as lieutenant governor demonstrated he can make “a dollar out of fifteen cents.” It’s unclear whether James or de Blasio have raised any monies for a gubernatorial run.
Hochul has perhaps the biggest political advantage thus far in the race, leveraging her incumbency to power her campaign. In her one month in office, she has attempted to establish a greater connection with New York City, promising to strike a more collegial tone with de Blasio compared to Cuomo, while also choosing Brian Benjamin, a state senator who had represented Harlem, to serve as her lieutenant governor. Benjamin had also attended the dinner.
Unlike her potential rivals, Hochul’s speech at the dinner served as the most politically overt, promising guests she will “fight like hell for every one of you” while governor.
“I’m there for you. Let’s take this all the way. Let’s win elections. Let’s do great things for people all over the state, particularly for the Bronx,” Hochul said. “Because if the Bronx goes, so does New York.”
Prospective candidates echoed Hochul's remarks for the Bronx, a borough that carried Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, to victory in the Democratic mayoral primary.
"Bronx: I thank you; I love you. I'll never forget the B-X," Adams said at the event.
While voter turnout is consistently low in the Bronx, candidates are nonetheless drawn to the borough since it's home to more Hispanics than any other part of the city. With James and Williams likely to occupy that lane, and no Hispanic yet to enter the race, the Hispanic vote becomes an even more coveted get.
Hochul and the others delivered that same enthusiasm at the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s annual breakfast on Thursday, hobnobbing with the borough’s political class at Junior's.
“It’s time to shake hands; it’s time to see and be seen. That’s why you go to the county dinner. You want to make sure everyone in the room knows you showed up and is talking about your plans,” said John DeSio, communications consultant at Risa Heller Communications, who was on hand at the event.
The event circuit will likely carry into next year when candidates decide whether to begin collecting signatures to mount a run.