September 18, 2021

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Donors encourage Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to run for NY governor as sex harassment scandal engulfs Cuomo – CNBC

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A group of New York’s most influential political donors in the business world are encouraging Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to run for governor as Andrew Cuomo contends with various investigations following an official report that found he sexually harassed multiple women.

Hochul’s conversations with financiers in recent weeks have focused in part on her political future, including a potential run for governor and potentially taking over the governor’s office if Cuomo resigned or was forced out, people familiar with the matter said.

These discussions took place before and after last week’s release of state Attorney General Letitia James’ report detailing instances of alleged sexual harassment by Cuomo against at least 11 women. The governor has denied wrongdoing.

A person close to Hochul said that many of these recent conversations have been initiated by supporters. This person declined to be named in order to speak freely.

“Everybody has been reaching out to her,” the person said. “They are offering advice, and she’s listening.” This person said Hochul has heard from state lawmakers, business leaders and other elected officials. This person also emphasized that it is the job of the lieutenant governor to be ready to take over for the governor if some transition happens.

Hochul’s discussions with donors and business leaders represent another shift of fortune for Cuomo, who has amassed support — and millions of dollars — from executives over his three terms as New York’s governor.

Cuomo has not ruled out running again in 2022. His campaign war chest had just over $18 million on hand by the end of the first half of the year. Cuomo and Hochul are both Democrats.

State campaign finance records show that Hochul’s lieutenant governor’s campaign account has around $1.7 million on hand. If she were to become governor before Election Day 2022, she would likely seek reelection for a full term of that office next year.

President Joe Biden and other Democratic Party leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have called on Cuomo to resign. Members of the New York State Assembly expect to finish reviewing the evidence in their impeachment inquiry within several weeks. Hochul has called the governor’s alleged behavior “repulsive & unlawful” and said it is up to the Assembly to determine next steps.

Meanwhile, many donors who have been part of Cuomo’s camp for years have not come to his defense since the report became public last week.

Weeks prior to the release of James’ report, John Yurtchuk, the chairman and owner of Buffalo-based tech company Calspan Corp., got a call from Hochul, he said in an interview on Monday.

Yurtchuk said he tried to persuade Hochul to run for governor, citing what he believed at the time was going to be devastating news for Cuomo once James released her report.

“I just said, ‘You’d be a great governor. I’m just letting you know,’ so she knows where her supporters might lie. I’d step up for her,” he explained.

Yortchuk said Hochul “kind of said she’s been hearing that. She’s been hearing that from other people that support her.” He gave $5,000 to Hochul’s campaign for lieutenant governor in July.

Last week, a media executive and Democratic megadonor who declined to be named in order to speak freely said he had heard from Hochul and assumed that conversation meant she was connecting in case she became governor. Those close to her have signaled to this executive to be ready to start raising campaign cash for a governor’s race if she were to take over for Cuomo.

Jeffrey Gural, a real estate executive who has previously contributed to Cuomo’s campaigns for reelection, says he spoke with Hochul before James publicized the report’s findings. Gural publicly turned on Cuomo late last month and gave Hochul’s reelection campaign $5,000 in early July.

“I think she would do a great job replacing Andrew. I have known her since she ran for Congress and obviously she will have a chance to prove herself once Andrew figures out he is done,” Gural said in an email Monday. “Before the report, she never mentioned running for anything but Lt. Gov, but I told her I was planning to attack Andrew publicly in the hope my accusations stick and she should be ready. She laughed, and I did attack him.”

Gural said that Hochul only laughed because she didn’t take his threat of publicly blasting Cuomo seriously.

Another longtime donor of Cuomo’s who has also known Hochul for years is already preparing to field calls from her if Cuomo leaves office before next year’s election.

“With his departure now (if it happens) Kathy will be in a strong spot because she has several months to establish dominion over the party before the election shows up,” this donor wrote in an email to CNBC. “If he stayed on but didn’t run for reelection, her opportunity would be substantially diminished.”

This person declined to be named in order to avoid retribution from the governor.

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