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Cuomo’s Exit Could Kick Off Game of Political Musical Chairs for Governor’s Seat and More

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a rally in City Hall Park supporting female candidates, July 13, 2021.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a rally in City Hall Park supporting female candidates, July 13, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s resignation is expected to lead to a statewide scramble for power among Democrats and Republicans in New York as politicians seek to capitalize on the unexpected opening of potentially multiple seats.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who in two weeks is slated to take over as governor to serve the remainder of Cuomo’ term through Dec. 31, 2022, would be in a good position to run for state’s most powerful seat next year.

But she’s expected to have competition — and lots of it.

A similar free-for-all took place after then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a former attorney general, resigned in 2008 a week after it was discovered that he patronized sex workers.

His own lieutenant governor, David Paterson, took power. That eventually opened the door for then-Attorney General Cuomo to run, after the Obama White House nudged Paterson to stand aside.

Cuomo’s ascension in 2010 cleared the way for state Sen. Eric Schneiderman to run for attorney general — and, eventually, for Hochul to become Cuomo’s second lieutenant governor.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visits a Queens shop.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul visits a Queens shop.
Office of the Lt. Governor

The game of musical chairs repeated with the downfall of Schneiderman in 2018, following allegations that he assaulted multiple women. Letitia James — whose investigation would bring down Cuomo — replaced Schneiderman as attorney general, while Jumaane Williams succeeded her as the city’s public advocate.

Now, Cuomo’s own political implosion could again serve as a boon for James or Williams: Both are said to be eyeing runs for governor.

Other elected officials have begun putting out feelers for a potential campaign as well, including state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Long Island Rep. Thomas Suozzi — both of whom reportedly had political associates reach out to the Rev. Al Sharpton. Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently declined to rule out a run for governor.

Here’s how the Cuomo fallout could potentially open up some of New York’s highest-profile positions:

Lieutenant Governor

While lieutenant governors are traditionally elected, New York’s highest court ruled in 2009 that a governor has the power to fill a vacancy.

The timing will be on Hochul to decide, but she’ll be able to elevate almost any Democrat in New York after her nearly 30 years in federal, state and local upstate politics.

Governors from New York City often pick an upstate running partner. If Hochul launches a campaign, adding a New York City Democrat could be in the cards.

One possible choice: Williams, whom she previously beat out for the job in the 2018 election, when he ran on a primary ticket with actress and activist Cynthia Nixon.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams joins a rally outside NYPD headquarters after the firing of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, Aug. 19, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“I would cut off any primary challenge at the pass by picking someone like Jumaane Williams or someone with some serious lefty credentials from the City Council,” said Richard Flanagan, a political science professor at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.

“Protecting herself from the left in the primaries would be a key goal with that selection,” he added. “Where she pulls someone from, that would be the question.”

While the position is almost entirely ceremonial, it gives the sitting politician exposure by allowing them to constantly travel across the state –– a strategy that paid off in Mario Cuomo’s first gubernatorial bid in 1982.

Public Advocate

If Williams jumps into the gubernatorial race and wins — or becomes lieutenant governor — the next speaker of the New York City Council would serve as an interim public advocate until a special election is held.

Williams told NY1 on Tuesday he was honored his name was being mentioned as a potential candidate for governor, but that he’s focusing on the leadership change that’s happening in two weeks.

Council members Carlina Rivera, Adrienne Adams, Keith Powers and Justin Brannan are all jockeying to be speaker.

The special election would be nonpartisan –– meaning candidates can form their own political parties. It would likely be a crowded field, based on the largely ceremonial citywide position’s history as a springboard for higher office (de Blasio served as public advocate from 2009 to 2013).

Corey Johnson
Council Speaker Corey Johnson speaks at City Hall in 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This already happened in 2019 after James began serving as attorney general. The city Board of Elections held the election in February 2019, less than two months after she succeeded Schneiderman. The winner of a public advocate special election would have to run again in November 2023.

Term-limited City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who recently lost the primary race for New York City comptroller and briefly served as interim public advocate, could make the case for a comeback. Former Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and then-Assemblymember Michael Blake were Williams’ closest Democratic competitors in his 2018 bid.

Attorney General

James is reportedly interested in running for governor, and her office’s detailed investigation into Cuomo –– as well as her probe into former President Donald Trump’s business dealings –– vaulted her into the national spotlight.

Cuomo’s team accused her of using the investigation to set herself up for governor. James last week denied any political motivations in producing the damning 168-page report. One of her spokespeople declined to comment Tuesday.

If James decides to run, an election will be held the same year to replace her as attorney general.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Among the possible candidates for an open attorney general seat are Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and state Sen. Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, according to one Brooklyn political operative. Candidates who challenged James in her initial 2018 campaign — such as Zephyr Teachout, a law professor who also previously ran for governor — could also be in the mix.

Members of Congress

Suozzi, a Democratic member of Congress representing parts of Queens and Long Island, is also said to be interested in running for governor. Hudson Valley Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of Queens and The Bronx, were floated as potential candidates in a recent poll.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez greeted constituents at the Parkchester station in The Bronx, July 31, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

If any of the three members of Congress run, they’ll create open primary and general election races in their districts in 2022. Suozzi and Maloney’s districts could attract competitive Republican opponents — and national attention — as parties vie for control of the House of Representatives with midterm elections coming.

Maloney didn’t give up his seat when he unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2018, and raised cash for the two races at the same time.

New York State Comptroller

A political associate of DiNapoli, a low-key incumbent, reached out to Sharpton, according to The New York Times, to feel out a run for governor.

If he does decide to run, an election would be held the same year to replace him, giving a litany of politicians the ability to seek a statewide seat that controls the state’s pursestrings and pensions for state workers.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
NYS Comptroller’s Office/Flickr

Among those who could vie for the post: city Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose 2021 campaign for mayor was hampered by allegations of inappropriate behavior toward two women decades ago.

State officials who this year ran for city comptroller — state Sens. Brian Benjamin and Kevin Parker, and Assembly member David Weprin — could also set their sights on the statewide role.

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