opinion | “Hochul stood as firm as an oak tree”: winners and losers of the New York gubernatorial debate

Welcome to the Times Opinion scorecard for Tuesday night’s debate between three Democratic candidates for governor of New York: Governor Kathy Hochul, Rep. Thomas Suozzi, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. A mix of Times contributors and outside political experts assessed the performances, rating them on a scale of one to ten. One means the candidate probably doesn’t belong in the governor’s mansion, and maybe not even on the debate stage; 10 means he or she is ready to take on challenges from Staten Island to Albany to Buffalo.

Lisa Benjamin (7/10) – A useful achievement with no unwanted bugs. Not a talented speaker but seemed to be enjoying herself. Protected Leader status and aptly highlighted achievements. Smoothly defended the scandal surrounding her handpicked Lieutenant Governor and pivoted to highlight a historic all-female leadership team.

GailCollins (6/10) – Basically, their explanation for the old NRA endorsement was…that’s when it worked politically for me. She should have been much better prepared to defend her giveaway at the football stadium.

Michelle Goldberg (7/10) – Unshakeable. Her past comfort with the NRA is a weakness, but she put an opportunistic political change in the best possible light: ‘You know what we need? More people evolving.”

Christina Greiner (7/10) – Buffalo was once known as the City of Trees, and Hochul stood firm as an oak as her opponents lashed out at her with criticisms of her ethics (Bills Stadium), her leadership (Armed Forces), and her judgment (Selection of the Lieutenant Governor) threw ). Her experience in the office showed.

Luis Miranda (8/10) – Her focus on teamwork – whether with Mayor Eric Adams of New York City or a team of female advisors – was a refreshing departure from the past. Term has many benefits, and the governor knows how to flaunt them. She gave us a laundry list of achievements.

Jack O’Donnell (8/10) — Offers tangible benefits rooted in their personal values. Was hit, particularly by guns and the Buffalo Bills, but “happily” responded and countered effectively. She’s the governor, and that has worked to her advantage.

Eleanor Randolph (8/10) – In the Goldilocks zone, she managed to keep smiling as she withstood flak from Jumaane Williams on the left and Tom Suozzi on the right. When asked if she preferred Superman or Batman, she settled on Superwoman.

Brent brackets (7/10) – A feat of leadership. Repeatedly brought the conversation back to the gun safety legislation she had just signed and her direct involvement in other pending government initiatives. Her commitment to upholding women’s abortion rights was emotionally powerful, as was her backsliding on the issue.

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Howard Wolfson (7/10) – Hochul spent an hour fending off criticism and trying to rise above constant attacks – mostly successfully. Taking center stage, she worked to position herself at the ideological center of the Democratic Party. She started as the leader and retired 60 minutes later in the same position without slipping. When asked to choose her favorite superhero between Superman and Batman, Hochul had the best moment of the night when she chose Superwoman instead.

Lisa Benjamin (6/10) – Thrown the most verbal jabs but landed no knockout punches. Adept at putting almost any question — even a question about his own ethics investigation — back to the governor, repeatedly urging her leadership on bail reforms and tackling crime and gun violence.

GailCollins (8/10) – Took no time at all to get to Hochul’s stupid Buffalo football stadium plan… and accused her husband’s business connections of selling $11 beers to fans.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) – It would be easier for Suozzi to indict Hochul on ethics if he were not currently the subject of an investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Bold to say his pet peeve is hypocrisy!

Christina Greiner (6/10) – Far too often, Suozzi has sounded like a Republican fear monger with no detailed strategies or plans to solve the issues he raises. To some, being a “common sense democrat” may sound attractive. But marijuana as a gateway drug? It’s 2022, Congressman.

Luis Miranda (6/10) – Like a boxer, Suozzi is in great shape, with nice choreographed moves, but unable to land punches to win a round.

Jack O’Donnell (6/10) – Clear on where Hochul went wrong – today and 10 years ago – but less clear on what he would do and where he would do better. Obviously not a Bills fan.

Eleanor Randolph (6/10) – Suozzi on the attack is good quick political theatre. He targeted Hochul’s gun history, her support for an expensive Buffalo stadium, and her first election as lieutenant governor accused of campaign finance fraud. She smiled through it all.

Brent brackets (7/10) – Polished, concise answers. He rightly addressed the process that brought about the deal at Buffalo Stadium and the high regard the NRA held for Hochul while she was serving in Congress. Can he weave these humble threads into a campaign narrative?

Howard Wolfson (5/10) — Humorless, grim and negative, Suozzi turned almost every question into an attack on Hochul. He repeatedly missed opportunities to offer his own positive vision for the state. The contrast between Hochul’s friendly demeanor and Suozzi’s growl didn’t help.

Lisa Benjamin (6/10) – Predictably progressive. Least scripted and most relatable. Easily bypassed to support his ex-boss Bill de Blasio’s congressional bid. Strongest line: “I’m tired of going from the press conference to the funeral,” and I join Suozzi in attacking Hochul for her past NRA support.

GailCollins (5/10) – The guy who really needed to make a breakthrough impression didn’t make it.

Michelle Goldberg (5/10) – I appreciated his empathy for people with mental illness, informed by his own experience with Tourette’s Syndrome. But I doubt it will spur a campaign that goes nowhere.

Christina Greiner (8/10) – Williams came prepared and is the clear progressive pick. His knowledge of countless issues makes it clear why he’s still in the running. He said he’s “thinking about the real answers to those questions,” and it showed.

Luis Miranda (7/10) – Big thinkers, big ideas – you have to love the world through your prism. He left Hochul alone and campaigned against gun violence with passion and his own experience.

Jack O’Donnell (5/10) — Connected when it comes to New York’s toughest challenges. Questioned the status quo, but his complex answers sometimes masked his progressive values. Too much time debating failed legislative priorities rather than bold policies he advocates.

Eleanor Randolph (4/10) – Williams is a strong progressive who reveals his passion for so many subjects, but if he was hoping for a breakthrough, it didn’t happen. He argued that Hochul failed as lieutenant governor because he failed to oppose former governor Andrew Cuomo. “Between these press conferences,” he said, “people die.”

Brent brackets (7/10) – A nuanced and effective counter. He used his responses to underscore campaign issues and to criticize the governor’s positions and responses in previous rounds. His references to the need to help people affected by evictions and foreclosures stand out.

Howard Wolfson (6/10) – Williams had a resolute focus on gun violence and welfare spending, but was never really able to offer a big, bold, progressive plan for the state. With nothing to lose, Williams should get out of the weeds, stop talking about million-dollar positions in the budget, and start talking about his billion-dollar vision.

Liz Benjamin is the managing director of Albany at Marathon Strategies, a public relations firm, and was a former reporter, covering New York politics and politics for various media outlets for two decades.

Gail Collins and Michelle Goldberg are Times Opinion columnists.

Christina Greer is a political scientist at Fordham University and co-host of the FAQ.NYC podcast.

Luis A. Miranda Jr. is a founding partner of the New York consulting firm MirRam Group and the Hamilton Campaign Network, and is the chairman of Latino Victory.

Jack O’Donnell is a veteran political strategist and lobbyist from New York and the author of Bitten by the Tiger: The True Story of Impeachment, the Governor, and Tammany Hall.

Eleanor Randolph is a former Times editor and author of The Many Lives of Michael Bloomberg.

Brent Staples is a member of the editorial board of The Times.

Howard Wolfson was Deputy Mayor under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, and director of communications for her first presidential campaign.

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