Vax mandate kicks in and the race for governor kicks off

Rounding up the week’s political news.

Gov. Kathy Hochul promoting the "Vax to School Safely" campaign in Flatbush.

Gov. Kathy Hochul promoting the "Vax to School Safely" campaign in Flatbush. Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

It’s finally October, which means spooky season has officially begun. The past week was pleasantly #fall with the start of sweatshirt weather, and all is right with the world. At least for lovers of autumn. Not so much for anyone paying attention to the news in Washington. The country was on the brink of a government shutdown (again) as two massive spending bills on infrastructure, climate change and social programs stalled. The news in New York wasn’t as dire, but the state certainly wasn’t quiet. So take a deep breath of that crisp fall air and keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

Vaccine mandates kick in

The Sept. 28 deadline for health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 has come and gone. Before the mandate officially kicked in, the state was preparing for a shortage of workers in the event that a significant number of them refused the jab. Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order to allow medical staff from other states and countries to practice in New York as well as retired health care workers. She also declared a state of emergency so she could deploy the National Guard to fill holes if needed. When the enforcement kicked in, about 87% of workers subject to the mandate – which does not have an option for weekly testing or religious exemptions – had gotten at least their first dose, the requirement to keep their jobs. Thousands of people got vaccinated in the days before the deadline, helping the state to avoid the worst of potential staff losses. Still, thousands of medical personnel were fired or suspended for remaining unvaccinated, with some parts of the state more impacted than others. But some may get temporary reprieve thanks to two court rulings, including one that came after the mandate took effect, placing a temporary hold on the state’s ability to enforce the mandate for those claiming religious exemption.

De Blasio goes to Rikers

Amid growing pressure to visit the troubled jail complex, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio finally visited Rikers for the first time in four years … sort of. Although he physically went to Rikers and entered the jail, he spoke to no rank-and-file correction officers nor any people incarcerated there. The jail was also cleaned and sanitized before his visit. De Blasio repeatedly declined to comment specifically about what he observed and claimed in response to criticisms of his tour that he didn’t need to speak to anyone because he already knew how bad the situation was at Rikers. Both he and Hochul are facing increasing calls to exercise their power to release more inmates from the jail to alleviate overcrowding, with one prominent criminal justice group asking the state to reopen two Manhattan prisons to transfer some inmates there.

The race for governor begins

It’s still early, but the 2022 gubernatorial race seems to be getting underway. Hochul has kept up an impressive fundraising schedule as she courts top donors, reportedly aiming to raise an eye-popping $25 million before her reelection. She’s likely preparing for some tough primary challenges as potential candidates begin dipping their toes into the campaign water. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the first to do so explicitly, announcing an exploratory committee for governor and publicly attempting to tie Hochul to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. State Attorney General Letitia James, who could pose the biggest threat to Hochul, sidestepped questions about her potential candidacy, but gave what sounded suspiciously like a stump speech to business leaders after pointing out that the last person to speak there in person was Eric Adams, who since has become the Democratic mayoral nominee. All three, along with de Blasio – another person rumored to be considering a run who won’t deny his potential interest – appeared at big events held by the Bronx and Brooklyn Democras. Nothing explicit came from any of those still making up their minds, but their actions seem to scream “candidate” to anyone paying attention.