New York State

Jumaane Williams reassembles his old coalition

The long shot gubernatorial candidate is relying on the same supporters who didn’t get him elected statewide in 2018.

Jumaane Williams receiving the Working Families Party endorsement on Feb. 9.

Jumaane Williams receiving the Working Families Party endorsement on Feb. 9. Rebecca C. Lewis

After several weeks of what seemed like a quiet campaign effort with a continual trickle of endorsements from progressive officials and organizations, gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams appears to be kicking his campaign into high gear. On Wednesday, the New York City public advocate announced that he won the support of the left-wing Working Families Party, his biggest endorsement – though not entirely surprising – thus far. “I’m a Working Families Democrat,” he said to cheers. On Thursday, Williams was in Rochester talking about gun safety and in Albany to rally for tenant rights in what was surely the start of upstate campaigning.

But even with new fuel in the tank and a freshly lit fire to burn it, Williams campaign so far has relied on the same cast of characters that led to his electoral shortcoming in 2018 when he ran against then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. Certainly, he performed better than anyone thought he would at the time, picking up 47% of the vote against the incumbent Hochul. But ultimately, Williams’ campaign was a failing coalition he has once again turned to in hopes of winning an even tougher race against the now governor.

Williams’ list of supporters reads as a who’s who of the institutional left in New York. It includes New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, Citizen Action and most recently the Working Families Party. Each of these groups also offered their support for Williams’ 2018 bid for lieutenant governor. “We fought and won many battles before,” Williams said of the WFP on Wednesday – just not that 2018 campaign. And as he takes his show on the road, it remains unclear what new support he can attract so as not to repeat the failures of the past.

Even greater hurdles litter Williams’ path to success than four years ago, chief among them the fact that he’s running for a far more important position this time. And while he performed well against Hochul in the past, the calculus has changed entirely as she continues to bask in the post-Cuomo glow. In 2018, Williams won only four counties, two of which were Brooklyn and Manhattan, a recipe which even if repeated would not deliver him a statewide victory for governor. Expanding his reach beyond his New York City roots will be more crucial than ever.

Williams’ support among officials so far covers only the five boroughs for the most part. Only a handful of local lawmakers in other parts of the state have offered their backing yet as he turns his attention upstate. Hochul, who has a mammoth lead in polling and fundraising, has steadily been releasing endorsements from lawmakers, officials and local Democratic Party organizations from all corners of the state for weeks. The Buffalo native has also been spending more time in New York City, where she’ll mingle with the people on Shake Shack runs or to watch a Buffalo Bills game.

The ability for Williams to reach beyond his core group of downstate, progressive supporters will be crucial for avoiding the same pitfalls of both Cynthia Nixon and the WFP in 2018. After losing that primary, the left-wing party found itself once again offering its line to Andrew Cuomo in order to avoid a third-party spoiler in the general and to maintain their ballot access. That itself was a repeat of the 2014 race when the WFP initially endorsed Zephyr Teachout. And now the party has set itself up to ask Hochul to take its line in November should Williams come up short in the June Democratic primary. Neither Williams nor the WFP would comment on whether he would stay on its line in the general election in such a scenario, but the prospect is unlikely. Williams will need to rewrite this script – and fast – if he wants to avoid the same result from the last go-round.