The two Democrats, who challenged New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attempt to keep her job, on Tuesday slammed her for her previous support from the National Rifle Association and the deal she struck hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars for a new stadium to spend on the Buffalo Bills.
Hochul, appearing in her first debate Tuesday night, defended the stadium deal and said her positions on guns have evolved over the 10 years since she received a favorable review from the NRA when they settled in a Republican-leaning one New York Borough for re-election.
“That was a decade ago. Judge me for what I’ve done because a lot of people have evolved since I took this position,” she said. “Do you know what we need? More people evolving.”
Hochul has been in office for nine and a half months, having become governor in August, when the governor at the time. Andrew Cuomo resigned. She aspires to become the first woman elected to New York’s highest office, but first she must fight her party’s primary on June 28 against Long Island Rep. Tom Suozzi and New York City Attorney-Elect, Jumaane Williams, win.
The governor is considered the frontrunner in the race, not only because she can claim the office as someone who currently holds the job, but also because she has hefty campaign funds and amassed endorsements, including support for the state’s Democratic Party.
Like Hochul, Suozzi stuck to predominantly centrist positions. Williams is a progressive who put up a powerful challenge against Hochul in the lieutenant governor’s race in 2018.
Williams, a former city councilman who serves as the public ombudsman, said he worked to stop gun violence ten years ago and he wished Hochul had supported him then.
“We’re 10 years behind because people in Congress followed the direction of the NRA,” he said.
Suozzi boasted an “F” rating from the NRA and said that while all the candidates on the scene supported the new state gun laws, “only one of us standing up here has ever been endorsed by the NRA and received money from the NRA.”
Hochul, who tried to show she had acted quickly in the face of rising gun violence and a mass shooting in Buffalo last month, highlighted a package of gun laws she signed into law this week that banned anyone under the age of 21 from buying a semi-automatic rifle and required micro-stamping on new firearms, which would leave individual identifiers on cartridge cases fired from those guns.
“I’ve been governor for nine months. I did it in record time,” she said.
She also defended her plan to eventually spend $850 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium for her hometown of Buffalo Bills.
The deal drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats for giving so much public money to a private company — in this case, the Buffalo Bills owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula. Good government groups and other critics have also noted that there may be a conflict of interest since Hochul’s husband works as senior vice president and general counsel for the Bills’ concession seller, Delaware North.
Suozzi and Williams both echoed this criticism early in the debate.
“We need someone to stop the budget and say we need more money for gun violence prevention, not a billionaire building a stadium outside of Buffalo,” Williams said.
Hochul, a Buffalo native and Bills fan, said the stadium deal will create jobs and benefit New York economically. She also said there was no connection between her husband’s company and the deal.
“They literally sell beers and hot dogs at the games. They had nothing to do with negotiations,” she said. She added: “I’m proud of his work. His ethics are second to none, as are mine.”
Williams and Suozzi took part in a debate last week in which they criticized Hochul for not taking part. Her campaign said it was instead focusing on the end of the legislature.
The trio is scheduled to meet on June 16 for another debate sponsored by WNBC-TV, Telemundo and the Albany Times Union.