Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor of New York, prevailed in the Democratic primary Thursday, beating back a spirited challenge from Jumaane Williams, a three-term New York City councilman.
As lieutenant governor for the past four years under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Hochul has worked on women’s rights and family issues, crisscrossing the state and attending as many as four events a day.
In many ways, she has played a ceremonial role under Cuomo, pressing and amplifying his message. But in his campaign against her, Williams challenged the very nature of the statewide office.
Williams, who had garnered a string of prominent endorsements, including one this week from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he would not be afraid to be the “voice of the people” and to challenge whoever won the governor’s race in November, rather than serving as a rubber-stamp.
Had Williams won, it would have created an awkward Democratic ticket in November, forcing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who defeated Cynthia Nixon on Thursday, to run with a candidate not of his choice or liking.
At times Williams, a self-described activist of Brooklyn, put Hochul, 60, on the defensive, prompting her last month to explain her loyalty to the governor in their only debate — a theme she returned to Thursday in her acceptance speech.
“So many people put their faith in me, and every day I got up and said I don’t want to let the people of my community — my hometown — down,” Hochul said in Buffalo. “I fought for you and I fought alongside our governor.”
Among the issues she has championed were a new state statute aimed at addressing sexual assault on college campuses. Called “Enough is Enough,” the 2015 law requires colleges to adopt a uniform definition of affirmative consent.
Hochul, a Buffalo native and Catholic who parts with the church on abortion, also helped push for paid family leave and fought child marriage, with teenagers as young as 14 formerly allowed to wed in New York. The Legislature passed measures addressing both issues.
But if Hochul was seen as a steadfast promoter of some of Cuomo’s signature initiatives, he did not always reciprocate. This year, he tried to nudge her off the ballot by encouraging her to run for Congress.
Cuomo floated the idea of Hochul challenging her old nemesis, Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican in western New York. She demurred, and a few months later, Collins suspended his re-election campaign after being indicted on insider trading charges.
Political observers said that while the lieutenant governor job in New York may not be the most consequential, the position does put Hochul next in line to the governor. In 2008, David Paterson, the lieutenant governor, took over when Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned amid a prostitution scandal.
Like an effective vice president in Washington, the lieutenant governor has the power to press an agenda. “While it’s probably fair to describe Hochul’s role as largely ceremonial or as mostly political theater, ceremony and theater do matter,” said James Coleman Battista, an associate professor of political science at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He added that anyone in the “chief executive’s close orbit can be important” to the policymaking process.