The new era of Democratic politics in the Empire State will be on full display in Midtown this week, as the first state party convention since Andrew Cuomo's political downfall gets underway.
New York State Democrats will gather at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel on Wednesday and Thursday to craft their party’s platform and nominate candidates for statewide office, all of which will be on the ballot this year.
The state Democratic Party looks a lot different now than when party officials gathered four years ago for their last convention. Cuomo is no longer governor after resigning in disgrace. New York City has a new mayor, Eric Adams. And current Gov. Kathy Hochul is the first woman to ever lead the state.
That’s not to say leaders from the party’s past won’t be represented. Among the convention’s headliners will be Hillary Clinton, who has been a frequent presence at the state convention since her days representing New York in the U.S. Senate.
The party is heading into a big year with not only statewide contests, but the midterms under newly drawn district lines. Still, the only contested statewide Democratic race is expected to be the primary for governor, where Hochul — who has a commanding lead in both polls and fundraising — is squaring off against New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s Democratic convention.
Most of the state’s top Democratic elected officials will be there (aside from some members of the state Legislature who technically have a session scheduled for Thursday). Along with a legion of operatives and staffers, other interested Democrats and the press, there will also be several hundred state committee members from across the state charged with voting for who gets on the ballot.
Jay Jacobs, the chair of the state Democratic Party, will also serve as chair of the convention. That means he will oversee the vote counts during the nominating portion of the event and will rule on any challenges to the rules of the convention.
What happens at a convention, exactly?
The main function of the convention is to nominate candidates for statewide office. That includes the U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller. While most of the incumbents are expected to be nominated with little opposition, there may be some drama around gubernatorial nominations.
All officially elected party members will be able to cast their vote for a nominee. In some cases, those members will also be casting proxy votes for their respective county. A candidate must secure at least 25% of the weighted vote to automatically secure a spot on the ballot. Any candidate that receives more than 50% of the weighted vote becomes the designee of the party going into the primary.
But any candidate who doesn't cross the 25% mark at the convention can still get on the ballot through the petitioning process — gathering signatures from a certain number of registered Democrats throughout the state.
How will the gubernatorial nomination go down?
Hochul is widely expected to become the party’s designee for governor. But it remains possible one of the other candidates – Williams, in particular – could garner enough support from state committee members to get a spot on the primary ballot without having to go through the costly and time-consuming petitioning process.
“We want to get on the ballot,” Williams told reporters at the state Capitol on Friday. “The system is what the system is. It is created so people who are not status quo don't have access to that in the convention. But as a member of the Democratic Party, I’m going to participate in what’s there.”
For her part, Hochul said she’s going to run like she’s trailing behind – a mentality she attributed to her fandom of the Buffalo Bills.
“I always have an underdog mentality because you never know if there's going to be 13 seconds when you wish something else had happened,” Hochul said Tuesday, referencing a recent heartbreaking Bills loss. “So that's my approach to life. That is my approach to all 13 elections I've been in, I run like an underdog until it's over.”
Do the nominees for governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket?
New York’s gubernatorial election system is different from the presidential election system. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run separately in the party primaries. Then the Democratic primary winners are joined together as a ticket in the fall, just as the Republican primary winners are.
Still, gubernatorial candidates have traditionally announced their pick for lieutenant governor before the primary in hopes of pushing them to victory.
We know who Hochul’s pick is: Current Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, a former state senator from Harlem whom she appointed to the role in August. Suozzi, meanwhile, is promising to name his preferred running mate on Wednesday. And as for Williams, he said he is unlikely to name his pick before the convention – if he names one at all.
“Hopefully we'll make a decision in the next few weeks,” Williams said Friday. “There’s also a scenario where you don't have to have a running mate … So we're actually weighing all of those options.”
What role will former First Lady Hillary Clinton play at the convention?
The former first lady, U.S. senator from New York, secretary of state and presidential candidate will be delivering the keynote address around noon on Thursday. While Clinton spoke at the convention four years ago to nominate Cuomo, she is expected to deliver a broader message to the state’s Democratic establishment ahead of what are expected to be challenging midterm contests across the country.
As the first female Democratic nominee for president, it is likely Clinton will invoke the historic nature of Hochul’s bid to be the first woman elected governor of New York State. The news of Clinton’s role at the convention has fueled speculation about her possible reemergence on the national stage after keeping a low profile in the last several years. Analysts will also be listening for any signals she gives about her own political future.
Cuomo never really liked any protest, or any objection whatsoever ... Hochul seems really comfortable being able to handle whatever comes
How different will it be without Cuomo?
The former governor – who chose to resign from office in August instead of facing likely impeachment over myriad claims of misconduct – has loomed large over the convention for more than a decade.
Jacobs, the state Democratic Party chair and once a close ally to Cuomo, said the former governor bristled at any hints of dissension among party members. He said that there has been less of that “intensity” and “nervousness” about how the convention goes in the run-up to this event.
“Gov. Cuomo never really liked any protest, or any objection whatsoever,” said Jacobs. By contrast, he said Hochul has a lot more confidence, even in the face of possible primary challengers.
“Hochul seems really comfortable being able to handle whatever comes,” he said. “She’s not afraid.”
What about the Republicans?
The state Republican Party’s nominating convention is slated for Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Garden City Hotel on Long Island.
Just like the Democrats, the GOP will be nominating candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general and U.S. Senate. Among the party’s current gubernatorial hopefuls are Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, former Trump aide Andrew Giuliani (the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani), and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.