Putting together a state budget is no easy task, especially in an election season as a rookie governor. Mix in the nationwide and global uncertainty over the economy, high gas prices and general fatigue from two years of a public health crisis, it can be a toxic brew.
More New Yorkers this month believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, up from 45% in a February Siena College poll to 49% in the survey released on Monday. New Yorkers have deepening worries over the state of their finances and the economy, as well as a rise in crime.
Hochul, who is seeking a full term this year, is facing a favorable rating that is below 50%. Turn on broadcast TV, and you would see her being hammered over the state's bail law by the campaign of Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi and a Suozzi-aligned independent expenditure committee.
Progressives are opposed to the changes she wants to make to the cashless bail law first approved in 2019; Republicans are calling for a repeal.
"I think that's a sign you're in the right place," Hochul told reporters on Friday in an impromptu question-and-answer session.
Hochul took office last August following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo amid allegations of sexual harassment misconduct. At the time, she pledged to take a far different approach from her predecessor, pledging to boost transparency and avoid the messy dramas that often filled the Capitol.
But governing a complex state like New York, as any governor past or present knows, is not easy.
Hochul this month was roundly booed at a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. Activists who oppose her efforts to expand the circumstances in which bail could be required — such as gun crimes — have taken to calling her "Cuomo 2.0." Her selection for lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, has reportedly been questioned as part of an investigation related to his comptroller campaign's finances.
Cuomo, who has funded a TV ad campaign asserting his innocence, has been the subject of rumors that he would run for his old job and challenge Hochul in a Democratic primary. Cuomo has acknowledged in his first public comments since leaving office he is not at "peace" and later weighed in on the leading issues under debate at the Capitol.
The Siena College poll showed some improvement in his standings, especially with his base of Black voters, though most voters still do not want him to run again. Prosecutors have declined to take on cases charging Cuomo, but have said they believe the womens' accusations are credible.
“There are now two polls showing similar results n the last few weeks and with today’s Siena survey, Governor Cuomo’s support effectively doubled in a few months – demonstrating that when New Yorkers have the facts, they realize the politicalization and the corruption of the process that was used to force from office a governor with a real record of results that improved people’s lives," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. "This was after only two recent speeches where he gave his thoughts on the problems facing this state, nation, and the Democratic Party as a whole.”
Republicans are certainly eager for the prospect of a Cuomo campaign.
"I think our margin of victory only increases," said Rep. Lee Zeldin, the GOP's preferred candidate for governor.
Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay on Monday pointed controversies beyond the harassment allegations, including his administration's handling of COVID-19 nursing home fatalities as well as his $5.2 million book contract that has come under scrutiny.
"I say c'mon. We'll review your record," Barclay said. "Come on in. It's not going to be a pretty sight."
Hochul has insisted she's remained focused on the budget — employing a we-don't-talk-about-Cuomo stance — and not the gathering political campaign season. She's yet to unleash the millions of dollars in campaign money amassed early on in her tenure.
A lot may be riding on the outcome of a budget, expected to clock in at least $216 billion that would fund child care, health care and include what could be a sweeping criminal justice and public safety package.
"Right now Hochul is facing turbulence not a brick wall," said Bruce Gyory, an adjunct professor at SUNY Albany. "She and her campaign would be wise to push through that turbulence and the perceptions that turbulence have engendered, on the road to landing their plane safely first on the budget and then with voters in the campaign to follow."
As for Cuomo? Gyory thinks it would be a mistake for him to re-emerge now, even if the former governor only trails Hochul 38% to 30% in the Monday poll.
"This 30% number is his cap, he has little room to grow," Gyory said. "If he is the supple and shrewd poll strategist he has always been, he will not run. If, however, he has become King Lear and just rages at the world, he could make a big miscalculation."