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State Democrats open convention amid optimism, some concern

New York Democrats will open their state convention Wednesday with a bonanza of optimism about their election chances — and a cloud of worry about a potential Republican wave year.

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Democrats open proceedings at the Sheraton hotel in Manhattan’s Theatre District on Wednesday, but the real action happens Thursday when they are set to nominate Gov. Kathy Hochul, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and the rest of their statewide ticket. The event also will serve as a pep rally for the party’s congressional and legislative candidates. Hillary Clinton will be one of the keynote speakers.

A 2-1 voter enrollment advantage, incumbency and redistricting — new maps for the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries help the party’s candidates — has boosted Democrats’ optimism.

“I think this year we are fielding the most diverse ticket we’ve ever fielded — not only on gender and ethnicity, but geographically as well,” Democratic State Chairman Jay Jacobs said. “We’re going to present a strong Democratic message. We’re running on a solid record of achievement in contrast to the Republicans who spent the last decade doing nothing but complaining.”

But there are warning signs, analysts note.

“On the caveat side, things are not looking good nationally for the Democrats,” said Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist. “These events are supposed to fire up the party faithful. That might be hard given the national climate.”

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Further, Reeher noted, gaining the party’s official imprimatur at the convention “doesn’t really carry a lot of weight in the primaries” these days. Even an official party slate will be designated, “it’s not like it gives them a big leg up.”

The main business of the convention is nominating candidates. Hochul, Schumer, Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Attorney General Letitia James are assured of getting the bulk of delegates’ votes and, therefore, becoming the party’s official designee.

Challengers, such as Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is taking on Hochul, have to win 25% of the delegates’ votes to automatically enter a primary. It’s more likely that Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams take the alternate route of gathering enough petition signatures to force Hochul into a June primary.

Suozzi is expected to name his lieutenant governor running mate Wednesday. The congressman also plans to speak to Democratic committee members at a Thursday breakfast, shortly before the nomination part of the convention begins.

The convention will be an opportunity for the party to show unity and enthusiasm, said Doug Muzzio, a Baruch College political scientist. Not just for Hochul and the other incumbents but also its congressional and legislative candidates.

He noted the Democratic-dominated Legislature and Hochul just approved new congressional and legislative district boundaries that could help them pick up seats.

“So they should be very confident, I think, and upbeat,” Muzzio said.

A Republican-backed lawsuit is asking the court to declare the maps unconstitutional on procedural and fairness grounds. It’s in its initial stage with arguments before the state’s court-system’s lowest trial-level court weeks away.

Tempering the Democrats’ enthusiasm, Muzzio said, is not only the national political forecast but also the big wins Republicans scored in local elections around New York in 2021.

But Jacobs says a repeat this year isn’t a given.

Said the chairman, on the eve of his party’s convention: “I think people are mistaken if they think 2022 will be a mirror image of 2021.”

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