BUFFALO, N.Y. - Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a group of reporters Thursday that Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul has support from "many, many people" to run for Congress in New York's 27th district, but he said she has chosen to instead focus on statewide re-election.
In his most detailed comments yet about the key congressional race in November, Cuomo confirmed that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called him to inquire about Hochul's interest in challenging incumbent Republican Chris Collins.
According to Cuomo, influential people in political circles seem to think that Hochul would have a better shot to defeat Collins than the current Democratic candidate, Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray.
"If Kathy were willing to run, I think that would be the best chance the Democrats have to win this seat. There's no doubt about that," Cuomo said after a speech inside UB's new medical school building, in which he touted medical campus investment and the second phase of his college tuition plan. "But she's not willing to run."
A spokesperson for Hochul said, in no uncertain terms, that the lieutenant governor will not run for Congress in November. McMurray also released a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying he was "disappointed" by the governor's comments but that it was a "new era" in politics.
The 27th Congressional District is a critical seat for Democrats, as the party attempts to seize control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections this fall. The district, which spans suburban Buffalo all the way to the Rochester outskirts, is considered one of the most conservative in the state, but Democrats seem hopeful that an anti-Trump wave could tilt voters in their favor.
In 2012, Hochul suffered a narrow defeat to Collins in the 27th district, but a report earlier this week from the Buffalo News indicated that the governor's associates still tried to explore the idea of her candidacy in 2018.
2 On Your Side has confirmed that at least one person, former Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt, placed a phone call to McMurray recently. Hoyt, who left his job last year during a sexual harassment investigation, told 2 On Your Side that he did not discuss Hochul's candidacy with McMurray.
Instead, Hoyt said, he contacted McMurray to see if he'd be interested in running for State Senate, which is also of intense interest to state Democrats following the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference.
"I have a lot of friends in the New York State Senate who would like to see the Senate have a Democratic majority," Hoyt said. "This had nothing to do with Kathy Hochul."
Hoyt said Gov. Cuomo did not direct him to make the call, adding that he hasn't spoken to the governor in more than a year. He also said the governor's associates did not contact him or ask him to call McMurray.
With Cuomo paying his first visit to Buffalo in five months on Thursday, 2 On Your Side felt it was necessary to ask the governor why a former state employee who left amid a harassment investigation was intervening in a New York congressional race.
We also asked the governor if he or his associates asked Hoyt to make the call to McMurray.
"No," Cuomo said. "But there's no secret that many, many people have been trying to get Kathy to run. And many, many people have said Kathy Hochul would be the strongest candidate, and many, many people say that she would be a stronger candidate than Nate McMurray."
Cuomo added that McMurray is a "good person, good man," and a "good elected official."
In his own statement, McMurray said he respects the governor and would look forward to working with both Cuomo and Hochul if they are re-elected.
However, McMurray also said he wishes the governor "would join me on a trip to Batavia or Warsaw or Lockport and see the support we're feeling in those rooms."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Congressman Chris Collins released a statement as well on Thursday evening, slamming both the governor and McMurray's credentials:
"You know it's bad when Andrew Cuomo regrets handpicking Nate McMurray to run for this seat. Maybe it's because he raised less money than every other potential candidate. Or maybe it's because they realize that Nate McMurray is simply too loony for NY-27."
As for Hochul?
Cuomo was asked in his interview with reporters whether he was worried she could be vulnerable in a primary against downstate challenger Jumaane Williams.
"No," he said. "She's a very strong candidate."