Queens could be king in deciding the Democratic primary race for governor — prompting incumbent Kathy Hochul and challenger Letitia James to shower attention on its voters, political observers say.
Huge backing from working- and middle-class voters in the New York City borough was crucial to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ Democratic primary victory for mayor in June.
And now both Gov. Hochul and her newly announced rival, state Attorney General James, are racing to woo voters in the racially and ethnically diverse borough in the key Dem bastion of New York City before their primary showdown next year.
“Queens will be in the spotlight in the governor’s race. The vote from Queens could be pivotal,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
Veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf added, “Queens and the suburbs are ground zero in the governor’s race.
“These are the Eric Adams’ voters — middle class and working class. These voters care about stability, jobs and public safety.”
Known as the “world’s borough,” there are three major regions in Queens: the more gentrified socialist left-progressive and immigrant communities in the western portion of the borough close to the East River and Manhattan and represented by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; more white, Jewish and East Asian residents in central Queens, and predominantly African-American and south Asian residents in south Queens who are the power base of Congressman and Queens Democratic leader Gregory Meeks and Borough President Richards.
The path to victory for James, who also has close ties to the Working Families Party, is to fuse a coalition that includes the borough and rest of New York City’s young, lefty progressives and Hispanic and Asians immigrant voters, experts say. She also needs black and white moderate voters in Queens and other parts of the city and state to counter Hochul’s expected strength in her upstate base and the suburbs.
Big Apple Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a darling of the left, could pose a challenge for James for progressive votes if he enters the race as expected. Williams, like James, is from Brooklyn.
New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, who also is the Nassau County Democratic leader, has endorsed Hochul, as have many upstate Democratic county leaders.
But Hochul isn’t taking any chances and is paying a lot of attention to Queens, using the power of incumbency to address pressing issues there.
Hochul — formerly the state’s lieutenant governor who replaced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo amid his sexual-harassment scandal — won plaudits for grounding her predecessor’s LaGuardia Airport AirTrain project in Queens. She also was hailed in the borough for killing a proposed natural gas-fueled power plant in Astoria.
Both projects were opposed by Green New Deal proponent Ocasio-Cortez and state Sen. Michael Gianaris, both of whom represent sections of Queens.
Hochul also hired Hope Knight, who headed the Greater Jamaica Development, as the new state economic director, drawing praise from the Queens borough president.
And she dedicated funds to Queens after damage caused by Hurricane Ida.
As attorney general, James grabbed the spotlight this past summer when her office issued a scathing report on Cuomo’s alleged perverted behavior.
In terms of Queens, James has: sued local landlords for allegedly harassing tenants and violating tax-abatement and lead-paint laws; taken on Amazon for alleged safety violations at a borough distribution center; cracked down on area car-dealership scams, and held gun-buyback programs with Queens DA Melinda Katz.
James, who previously served for 10 years on the City Council, is attempting to leverage her deep connections to pols in Queens over the decades to build her coalition to win the statehouse, observers say.
One of those pols is Congressman Meeks, chairman of the borough’s Democratic Party who represents southeast Queens in the House. When Meeks was a Queens state assemblyman in the 1990s, James was a staffer for Brooklyn Assemblyman Al Vann.
“Tish James has been a friend of mine for my entire political career,” Meeks told The Post. “”Are you asking me whether Tish James is a formidable candidate and would be a good governor? Absolutely!”
Meeks noted he also served with Hochul during her one term in the House as congresswoman from western New York.
Asked about who he would endorse for governor, Meeks claimed, “I don’t have a horse yet,” adding that this “is business, not personal.” Insiders expect he’ll back James.
James won the endorsements Saturday of progressive state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who represents immigrant communities to the west in Queens, and more moderate Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, who represents some of its southeast neighborhoods.
James got a rousing reception at the Queens Democratic Party dinner last week, too, the day before she announced her bid for governor, with some chanting, “Governor! Governor!” Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, Hochul’s running mate, attended the event.