In 2022, we will enter the third year of a global pandemic, a year in which our state institutions will have to contend with elemental questions about how to fulfill their missions and remain relevant.
In 2022, we will see a political trifecta as every legislative and congressional seat in the state is up for re-election, and all those districts will have new maps. Statewide offices are up for re-election, too, but the marquis question revolves around the balance of power in Congress, and how New York’s maps could influence that balance.
Here in New York, COVID-19 and politics are inextricably linked, which could get very complicated for Gov. Kathy Hochul.
“What I see her doing right now is pushing restrictions and regulations about as far as they can be pushed given the appetite of the people for them at this point,” said Syracuse University professor Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute. “I think she’s done a good job of trying to figure out where that tipping point or that balance point is and run right up against it.”
Another issue that may dog Hochul is her predecessor’s lack of candor around the COVID-19 death toll in nursing homes. It’s an issue that heavily influenced the first few weeks of her tenure.
But Bill Hammond, the Empire Center's senior fellow for health policy, believes that because of what he calls “Cuomo’s cover-up," Hochul still needs to do more to repair the state’s public health system.
“[She needs to] convene some kind of independent, non-partisan commission that would study what happened, and I mean in a very broad sense,” Hammond said. “How the virus came to New York state without being detected. How prepared we were to handle it. How we handed it. The things we did right, the things we did wrong, so we can be prepared for the next virus.”
While the governor has the power to create such a commission under the Moreland Law, Hammond said he believes it will have “moral authority and credibility” if it’s created by the Legislature.
Looking ahead, there may be an even more daunting challenge for Hochul. She has to lead a state where pandemic exhaustion has hit much of the population.
“We’re at this point where people are over it, and want to be over it, but we can’t actually be over it, and that’s going to be a challenge for her,” said western New York political analyst Jennifer Tuttle.
One thing Hochul has going for her is that she has, so far, seemingly charmed the Legislature. Tuttle believes that charm offensive will help Hochul in 2022, especially if more dangerous COVID-19 variants emerge and she needs to ask lawmakers for emergency powers.
“Because she’s not as ego-driven as some of our previous governors, she knows how to work with both houses and she will compromise,” Tuttle said. “It’s not all about gamesmanship. It’s about finding solutions and doing what we can to move New York state forward."
During her Jan. 5 State of the State address, Syracuse’s Grant Reeher is hoping Hochul will reflect on the trade-offs she’s had to make regarding COVID-19 restrictions versus pandemic exhaustion.
“I think the principle way Kathy Hochul will be evaluated as governor is how she handles COVID and her leadership (around) that,” Reeher said.