ALBANY – When it comes to promoting his running mate, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino makes sure media outlets around the state regularly know the whereabouts of Chris Moss.
But Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has taken a different approach with Kathy Hochul, the former U.S. congresswoman from Erie County tapped in May by Cuomo his lieutenant governor candidate.
Largely, silence. Or at least public silence.
Hochul, not a known commodity beyond Western New York, has spent the past six weeks not trying to get her name out in local media outlets across the state. Neither has she given policy addresses to widespread groups of voters.
Rather, she has been meeting in small to mid-size groups in mostly private settings and much of it in downstate areas almost exclusively out of the media’s eye.
To claims he has been hiding her from public view, Cuomo on Monday dismissed such speculation as “absurd.” Hochul, through the Democratic Party, did not respond to a request for comment.
Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for the party, noted Hochul’s public appearances with Cuomo in Erie County in May and an event with women leaders on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan.
“She has focused her time over the past several weeks on meeting with community leaders throughout New York State to get to know more about the concerns of real New Yorkers in every region of the state,” Kauffmann said.
Two theories are at play about Cuomo’s approach toward Hochul.
One is that Hochul, unlike Cuomo, may have a name in the Buffalo area but remains unknown to many Democratic Party insiders and party clubs around the state.
So Cuomo has dispatched her to work that crowd knowing that she has plenty of time in the fall to appear at media events either with him either as a team or solo representing their ticket.
Cuomo, who has no problem with name recognition, did not give Hochul any lead time before he tapped her as his running mate, leaving her with no time to prepare for a statewide run.
She previously served as a Hamburg Town Board member, Erie County clerk and a one-term member of Congress.
The other theory is that Cuomo, facing a possible Democratic primary against left-leaning Zephyr Teachout, is keeping Hochul’s profile intentionally low.
Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, has accused Cuomo of not living up to the party’s ideals.
With Democratic primaries statewide traditionally attracting the more liberal faction of the party to the polls, Cuomo, Democrats and Republicans say, does not want to give Teachout any ammunition with Hochul, who in a past race was endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
As more fodder for left-leaning Democrats, Hochul in 2007 was a regular critic of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to let illegal immigrants get driver’s licenses.
She told The Buffalo News that year that Spitzer’s plan “gives them cover.”
She had worked on a plan to let illegal immigrants get the licenses but then would turn over the information to law enforcement to try to get them arrested or deported.
“Cuomo allegedly ordered Kathy Hochul to stay ‘under wraps,’ ” blared a New York Post headline Monday, a theory Cuomo dismissed Monday.
“How absurd a theory is that? I selected a person to run on the ticket who I don’t want anyone to know or see? Silly,” he told reporters in Manhattan.
Moss, the Chemung County sheriff running as the Republican lieutenant governor candidate, regularly sends his public schedule – for events across the state – to reporters with plenty of advance word for any who might want to attend the gatherings.
It is a far different story with Hochul.
Hochul’s activities can be best tracked not with schedule alerts, but to her Twitter followers – and mostly after the events have occurred. She posted photographs of her meeting with fellow Democrats, such as on June 26 with Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and June 30 and July 1 events with Democratic members of Congress and the State Legislature in Queens and Manhattan.
On July 4, she posted photographs of herself walking in parades in Western New York and a farmers’ market in Batavia.
“Look who I found in Cheektowaga,” wrote Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz on his Twitter site above a photograph of himself and Hochul at a July 4 parade.
In the background was not a Cuomo/Hochul campaign sign, but a banner with Poloncarz’s name on it.
Hochul has also posted photographs, without her in them, of everything from a Buffalo Bisons game to the big crowd at a downtown waterfront event for a Team USA match in the World Cup.
Monday, Teachout said it is no accident that Hochul is not being pushed by Cuomo to get much attention now.
“Governor Cuomo seems to be acting out of fear, afraid that Democratic primary voters will learn that Kathy Hochul has built her career as an anti-immigrant bank lobbyist and doesn’t share their values,” Teachout said.
Hochul, still employed by M&T Bank, has been promoted from her former job with the bank as head of government relations.
Teachout noted her running mate, Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a child of two immigrants.
She pointed out a 2001 Hochul ad in which Hochul talked of leading the fight against giving illegal immigrants driver’s licenses.
“I think it’s fair to say that she built her campaign partially on fear and that Cuomo’s desire to hide her reflects a different kind of political fear,” Teachout said.
Astorino spokeswoman Jessica Proud called it “unconscionable that Andrew Cuomo is trying to silence the voice of the woman running to be second in charge of this state. Gov. Cuomo should bring her out of hiding and allow New Yorkers to know what she stands for.”
The lack of a public schedule or extended media interviews for Hochul has been increasingly noticed in the past couple of weeks by Democratic and Republican insiders.
Democratic insiders, though, dismiss the where-is-Hochul talk as handwringing.
They note that she was plucked at the last minute by Cuomo to be his running mate and that the slower summer season is the time when someone like her – new to the statewide stage – would be spending time meeting with local Democratic leaders from influential party groups, especially in New York City where much of the turnout on primary day will be based.
They also dismissed that Cuomo is hiding her from the left wing of the party, noting that she was nominated at the party’s May convention by Melissa Mark-Viverito, the liberal speaker of the New York City Council.
That Hochul would use her congressional ties, such as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, to help her make inroads with New York City Democrats who don’t know her should not be a surprise.
There is another reality: money.
Astorino and Moss have little of it compared with Cuomo’s $30 million-plus campaign account.
The money disparity means Astorino and Moss rely on news reports from the so-called free media – newspaper, radio, television and social media – to help them get word out about their campaign.
Cuomo and Hochul are not in that position. Democrats say that helps further explain why Hochul does not need to be making a major splash.
The governor has a routine when it comes to promoting his policies or in the days and weeks after passage of a state budget or completion of a legislative session: statewide barnstorming.
While Cuomo and Hochul did make an appearance in Erie County after the party’s convention in May, they have not done so in other areas of the state – adding further to speculation that Hochul was selected to help shore up Cuomo’s support in Western New York, a region he lost in 2010.