Hochul emerges to announce Women’s Equality line

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Kathy Hochul. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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Lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul headlined a rally on the Upper West Side on Thursday, to announce she and Governor Andrew Cuomo plan to run on a new Women's Equality ballot line.

Flanked by about 100 mostly young women supporters, the former congresswoman from Erie County trumpeted her pro-choice record, condemned a recent decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, and criticized the State Legislature’s failure to pass the Women’s Equality Act.

As a result, Hochul said, she and Cuomo are forming the new ballot line to “mobilize women and supporters all across the state.”

“The Women’s Equality Party will have its own ballot line," she told a crowd that included former Council speaker Christine Quinn. "It will bring together the strength and unity of New York State’s women leaders to promote women’s equality, inspired by the spirt of those who came before us."

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The event was something of a debut for Hochul, a former congresswoman from Western New York who has been overseeing government relations for Buffalo-based M&T Bank since she lost re-election in 2012. Since being nominated in May, Hochul has met quietly with small groups of officials and made unannounced appearances at several events in Western New York.

“I’ve made myself accessible,” Hochul told reporters, adding that she was “flattered by the attention on the race.”

Hochul said she was “confident” that Democrats could capture the Senate this year, and pass the Women's Equality Act, which would increase pay equity provisions and sexual harassment penalties as well as change abortion law to decriminalize the practice.

“I believe that the Democrats we are supporting this year and the governor will be out there campaigning to make sure that we control [the Senate]. ... I feel very confident in our chances,” Hochul told reporters after the rally.

In a statement, Zephyr Teachout, who is running against Cuomo in a Democratic primary, faulted the governor for working with Senate Republicans, who have refused to hold a vote on the abortion plank, which none of their members publicly support, but twice passed the nine other women's equality items as separate bills. 

“The governor is attempting to buy authority to speak on women's equality, but he lost that authority when he chose to govern with Republicans instead of choosing to push for a Democratic Senate,” said Teachout, a Fordham law professor.

Republicans also denounced the effort, and one anti-abortion group pre-emptively defined the new party as synonymous with late-term abortion because abortion law changes embraced by Cuomo would have delegated to a physician's scope of practice, which could be amended by state Department of Health officials.

Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for Rob Astorino, showed up at the event on Thursday and told reporters that “Governor Cuomo should be ashamed of himself for playing politics with women’s rights.”

“He continues to stand by and protect the Speaker of the Assembly who for years has been covering up the sexual assault and abuse of young staffers and interns at the State Capitol," she said, referring to charges against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. "Furthermore, he refuses to allow passage of nine of the ten points of the Women’s Equality Act which have consensus in both houses.”

Cuomo and Hochul will need 15,000 valid signatures to establish the line, which would give them a fourth spot on the ballot, along with the Democratic, Independence and Working Families lines.

People familiar with the new party's formation said Cuomo aides also contemplated an education theme, as well as a “New Americans” party. There was also talk of reviving the Liberal Party, which died alongside Cuomo's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, when he ended his candidacy but kept the party's line. The party failed to receive the 50,000 votes necessary for automatic ballot status that year, and faded away.