From time to time a young, would-be politician, contacts me to get some advice on how to succeed in a very challenging profession.
I am happy to share whatever wisdom I can muster and make it clear that there are certain rules in politics that apply to any politician at any stage of their career. I have come to the conclusion that the same admonitions I gave to the potential candidate apply to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Hochul is a very smart and articulate woman and she has come to the job with some good local and national government experience, but she is making mistakes that could cost dearly when and if she seeks another term. House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said that “all politics is local.” The governor does attend major events but shuns doing the local appearances that would help her connect with the voters. Having successfully run for office 13 times, I never missed an opportunity to press the flesh and make eye contact with my constituents.
The debacle over her choice for a vacancy on the state Court of Appeals should have also served as a lesson. There are three very powerful people in Albany. After the governor, it is the speaker of the Assembly and the Senate majority leader. Prior to choosing Judge Hector La Salle for the position, the governor should have reached out to the Senate leadership so that her nomination announcement didn’t come as a surprise. Communication is a very important word anywhere and you succeed in politics when you seek the counsel of others in high places.
There is no doubt that this state desperately needs more affordable housing. Our young people are fleeing suburban and upstate communities because they can’t find a place to live that matches their budgets. Hochul was 100% right to make housing a part of her agenda, but it would have helped her greatly if she had held a series of forums around the state to build up support for her plans and get local input. There is no doubt that the local Republican officials might have rebuffed her, but building up support for any public initiative is critical.
During my 23 years in state office, I came in close contact with Govs. Rockefeller, Carey, Pataki, Spitzer and Cuomo (both father and son). Rockefeller and Carey were very good at reaching out to legislators to make them feel important. Each would hold events with the members that made them feel a little wanted and a way to break the ice. Hochul would be wise to do some more reaching out, which would help her advance her priorities throughout the year. Everybody needs a little love and governors should spend some time giving the love.
One of the key things that every governor needs is a strong staff that can help them with the daily challenges of the job. Hochul has hired some very capable people and no one can question their talents. What is missing in her current office is some people who understand politics. Rockefeller and Carey had very astute political people surrounding them and on many occasions, they were able to stop them from making any serious political mistakes.
I know this sounds like a minor thing, but when you are an elected official, you should always answer your mail. When I was a member, I could often be seen on the Assembly floor signing piles of letters to constituents. I don’t mean to suggest that Hochul should sign a response to every letter to her office. That is a job of a good staff. But I personally know two very high level and respected public figures who have written to either the governor or her counsel and have never gotten an answer. No governor gets only love letters, but even if you don’t agree with the sender, give them the courtesy of a reply.
Hochul has 3 1/2 years left to her term in office and hopefully she makes the adjustments necessary to do her job successfully. In politics every day is a new on-the-job experience. These few suggestions will make any elected official a better one, even a governor.