New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams gathered with supporters at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday to kick off a statewide tour in his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.
He was joined at the site of the decade-old Occupy Wall Street protests by members of the state’s left-leaning Working Families Party (WFP), who endorsed him the night before.
“I am a Working Families Democrat,” said Williams, framing his long-shot candidacy as a rejection of the mainstream Democratic establishment who he said ignored the needs of working people concerned about affordable housing and childcare. He also took direct aim at his challenger, Gov. Kathy Hochul, accusing her of catering to elites by ruling out tax hikes on the wealthiest New Yorkers. He labeled Hochul a “nicer, gentler version” of her disgraced predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
The contest serves as a rematch between Hochul and Williams, who both ran for lieutenant governor in 2018. Williams lost, but secured nearly 47% of the vote, exceeding expectations.
The gubernatorial race brings starkly new challenges, including a massive fundraising hurdle. As the current incumbent, Hochul has amassed a formidable $22 million war chest that will enable her to put ads on air across the state. Williams has raised just $222,000.
On Wednesday, Williams sought to spin that deficit to his advantage, painting Hochul as beholden to her deep-pocketed donors.
“The current governor may govern on behalf of the people who gave her $20 million. I plan on governing on behalf of 20 million New Yorkers,” he said.
Another difference from the 2018 race: Williams is not facing Hochul head-to-head. While both Letitia James, the current state attorney general, and the city’s former mayor, Bill de Blasio, opted out of the race, Long Island/Queens Rep. Tom Suozzi is still running on Hochul’s right. He raised more than $3 million as of the last fundraising deadline.
Both Williams and Suozzi are running well behind Hochul according to poll numbers that show her with a commanding 30-plus point lead. But Williams’ supporters at the event, which include City Comptroller Brad Lander, said this moment was about sending a message.
“Many of us, including Jumaane, were here in 2011 to express outrage at a rigged system that builds up billionaires and bankers while working people were thrown out of their homes by the millions,” said New York State WFP director Sochie Nnaemeka, invoking the symbolic location of the event at the one-time Occupy Wall Street encampment.
Nearly 11 years later, she said, too many people continue to face economic uncertainty living paycheck to paycheck and on the brink of eviction. To change that, “we need a working people’s governor … that’s our candidate, Jumaane Williams,” Nnaemeka added.
Williams, who officially launched his primary bid against Hochul shortly after securing his full-term as public advocate, has had a long relationship with the influential third party dating back to his first run for the City Council in 2009.
While only registered Democrats can vote in the June 2022 primary, this is not the first time the WFP has endorsed a more progressive candidate in the primary (see Cynthia Nixon 2018), with the aim of pushing all candidates to the left. Neither Williams nor Nnaemeka would comment on whether he will remain on the party’s ballot line in November if he loses the Democratic primary. There are roughly 50,000 voters registered with the WFP.