Are you a Democrat thinking about running for governor of New York? You might want to give Livingston County's Judith Hunter a call.
The chairwoman of the Democratic Rural Conference and her members who come from small rural counties in upstate New York are once again planning to have a say in who becomes the party's nominee for governor ahead of what could be the most competitive primary in nearly a generation.
"The DRC is focused on making sure that rural issues have a hearing," Hunter said Thursday in a phone interview. "We are a big part of New York state."
Gov. Kathy Hochul is the first Western New York resident in a century to serve in the governor's office. But geography does not automatically spell support for the group. First and foremost, a candidate has to show up.
Hunter pointed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has become a mainstay at Demoratic Rural Conference meetings, and his ability to schmooze with upstate party activists.
"I will tell you that Mr. DRC, in terms of our April meeting, has always been Chuck Schumer," Hunter said. "Sen. Schumer works our dinner like a bride groom at a reception. He comes to every table. Yeah, he's from Brooklyn, but he certainly represents us. That's the kind of responsiveness that we value."
The new governor, Hunter added, has so far appeared responsive, pointing to a recent North Country swing by Hochul.
But Hochul next year could face a crowded primary. Already, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has indicated he will run. Allies of Attorney General Letitia James have also started to reach out to Democratic and labor union leaders. Rep. Tom Suozzi and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone are also considered to be potentially in the mix.
Hunter has received some phones calls from allies of prospective candidates, but would not say who.
One of the early measures of support for a New York Democratic gubernatorial hopeful could be when the conference holds its straw poll. Traditionally, that is an event held in April when the DRC holds its annual meeting.
But given the new political calendar with a June primary instead of September, a state party convention will be held before the conference meets next year.
So the group is weighing its options for its straw poll.
"It used to be the DRC was like Iowa," she said. "It had happened before the state conventioned weighed in. How we're going to handle it this year, I'm not sure. We're talking about a lot of different scenarios."
Beyond merely showing up, the conference is listening to hear candidates articulate plans on broadband service and the environment as the top issues facing rural voters in New York.
"We want to make sure a Democrat gets elected and that is always our priority,." Hunter said. "We want to make sure whatever Democrat does get elected has room in their portfolio for rural issues and listens to our concerns."