Hochul defends Bills stadium deal, gun positions in debate

Jun 7, 2022, 5:35 PM | Updated: 7:10 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — The two Democrats challenging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s bid to keep her job criticized her Tuesday for her past backing from the National Rifle Association and the deal she reached to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

Hochul, appearing in her first gubernatorial debate Tuesday night, defended the stadium deal and said her positions on guns had evolved in the 10 years since she got a favorable rating from the NRA while running for reelection in a Republican-heavy New York district.

“That was a decade ago. Judge me by what I’ve done because a lot of people have evolved since I took that position,” she said. “You know what we need? More people to evolve.”

Hochul became governor in August when then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned amid allegations he sexually harassed several women, which he denied. She is seeking to become the first woman elected to New York’s highest office, but first she has to win her party’s June 28 primary contest against U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island and New York City’s elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Hochul is considered the frontrunner in the race, not only because she can claim incumbency but also because she has dominated campaign fundraising and has stacked up endorsements, including the backing of the state Democratic party.

Suozzi, like Hochul, has stuck to mostly centrist positions. Williams is a progressive who in 2018 mounted a strong challenge against Hochul in the lieutenant governor’s race.

Williams, a former city councilman who serves as a public ombudsman, said he had been working to stop gun violence 10 years ago and said he wished Hochul had been supportive then.

“We are 10 years behind because people in Congress were doing the bidding of the NRA,” he said.

Hochul, trying to show she acted quickly amid rising gun violence and a mass shooting in Buffalo last month, highlighted a package of gun bills she signed this week that prohibited anyone under 21 from buying a semiautomatic rifle and required microstamping on new firearms, which would leave individual identifiers on bullet casings fired by those guns.

“I’ve been the governor for nine months. I got it done in record time,” she said.

Suozzi boasted of having an “F” rating from the NRA and said that while all the candidates on the stage supported the state’s new gun laws, “only one of us standing up here has ever been endorsed by the NRA, taken money from the NRA.”

Hochul also defended her plan to spend an eventual $850 million in taxpayer money toward a new stadium for her hometown Buffalo Bills.

The deal has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats for giving so much public money to a private business — in this case, the Buffalo Bills, which are owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula. Good government groups and other critics have also noted there could be a conflict of interest as Hochul’s husband works as a senior vice president and general counsel for the Bills’ concession vendor Delaware North.

Suozzi and Williams both repeated those criticisms early in the debate.

“We need to have someone that’s going to stop the budget and say we need more money for gun violence prevention, not a billionaire to get a stadium to be built outside Buffalo,” Williams said.

Hochul, a Buffalo native and Bills fan, said the stadium deal will create jobs and economically benefit New York. She also said there is no connection between her husband’s company and the deal.

“They literally sell beer and hotdogs at the games. They had nothing to do with negotiations,” she said. Hochul added: “I’m proud of his work. His ethics are second to none, as are mine.”

When it came to ethics, Suozzi was questioned about an ongoing U.S. House Ethics committee investigation over his failure to file reports on some of his stock transactions as required under federal law.

He described it during the debate as a misunderstanding.

“It’s a paperwork error. And the reality is, we’ve corrected it,” he said.

He then said it was nothing compared to Hochul’s handpicked lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, being arrested on federal corruption charges in April.

Benjamin had been a state senator from Harlem before Hochul brought him into her days-old administration in August.

He is accused of participating in a scheme to receive campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for using his influence as a lawmaker to send a grant of state funds to a nonprofit controlled by the developer. Benjamin has denied there was anything inappropriate about the grant and pleaded not guilty, but he resigned from the lieutenant governor role. A trial has been scheduled for next year.

Though concerns had been raised about Benjamin’s fundraising in early 2021 — before Hochul made him her second-in-command — the governor has said she was surprised at his arrest and had been told questions about his fundraising had been resolved.

“It was very very disappointing to me that those charges were brought because we worked with the information that we had at the time,” Hochul said. She called his arrest “a setback” and said her new lieutenant governor, former U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, “is going to be an amazing partner.”

Williams and Suozzi participated in a debate last week in which they criticized Hochul for not participating. Her campaign said she was instead focused on the end of the legislative session.

The trio is scheduled to meet in another debate on June 16 sponsored by WNBC-TV, Telemundo and the Albany Times Union.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - President Joe Biden talks with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., on the House steps as...

Associated Press

House OKs debt ceiling bill to avoid default, sends Biden-McCarthy deal to Senate

The House approved a debt ceiling and budget cuts package late Wednesday, as President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy assembled a bipartisan coalition of centrist Democrats and Republicans against fierce conservative blowback and progressive dissent.

19 hours ago

Sean Bickings (Family Photo via city of Tempe)...

Associated Press

Family of man who drowned last year in Tempe Town Lake files wrongful death lawsuit

The family of a man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake a year ago filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city Wednesday, noting that its police department doesn't have a policy requiring officers to go into the water to save someone.

19 hours ago

(Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Associated Press

Florida police search for 3 gunmen who wounded 9 at crowded beach on Memorial Day

Police are responding to a shooting near the beach broadwalk in Hollywood, Florida.

3 days ago

Crew members assemble the main stage ahead of the 2023 Scripps Nations Spelling Bee on Sunday, May ...

Associated Press

Exclusive secrets of the National Spelling Bee: Picking the words to identify a champion

As the final pre-competition meeting of the Scripps National Spelling Bee's word selection panel stretches into its seventh hour, the pronouncers no longer seem to care.

3 days ago

FILE - Gabby Petito's mother Nichole Schmidt, wipes a tear from her face during a news conference o...

Associated Press

Mother of man who killed Gabby Petito said in letter she would help son ‘dispose of a body’

The mother of the man who killed Gabby Petito told her son in an undated letter that she would “dispose of a body” if needed because she loved him so much, according to copies of the note shared publicly for the first time this week by attorneys for Petito's parents.

6 days ago

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, places flags in front of e...

Associated Press

5 things to know about Memorial Day including its controversies

Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers.

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]

(Photo: OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center)...

OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

Here’s what you need to know about OCD and where to find help

It's fair to say that most people know what obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders generally are, but there's a lot more information than meets the eye about a mental health diagnosis that affects about one in every 100 adults in the United States.

(Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona Photo)...

Desert Institute for Spine Care in Arizona

5 common causes for chronic neck pain

Neck pain can debilitate one’s daily routine, yet 80% of people experience it in their lives and 20%-50% deal with it annually.

Hochul defends Bills stadium deal, gun positions in debate