ALBANY, N.Y. — An extended honeymoon between the two most powerful Democrats in New York may be coming to an end.
The influx of migrants into the state is threatening to wreck what has been a carefully crafted alliance between Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, one that had stood in contrast to the ceaseless feuds that swallowed up their predecessors. (Think Andrew Cuomo vs. Bill de Blasio, Mario Cuomo vs. Ed Koch.)
Adams’ recent decision to send migrants outside New York City, including to communities in key suburban House battlegrounds, was a tipping point that put him at odds with fellow Democrats. Sharp new arguments were laid out in court papers in recent days over how to address the migrant crisis in the state, where more than 100,000 asylum-seekers arrived in the past year.
The court battle — a conflict over whether the state has an obligation to house the homeless, including migrants — could pull Hochul into a more direct role in the crisis. Adams and his advisers have urged Albany to do more; she has countered the state has pledged $1.5 billion to the city this year alone, as well as deployed the National Guard and taken other steps.
The issue now threatens to bleed into the 2024 election and could become a drag on Democrats, including President Joe Biden, who has been criticized for not doing more to help the city.
Publicly, both Adams and Hochul tried to downplay the legal back-and-forth and insisted they still have a good relationship. (“We’ve been working great together, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Adams told reporters Thursday.)
But one Democratic consultant familiar with the mayor’s thinking was happy to jab at Hochul, even while insisting the “relationship will withstand this.”
“Given that the governor didn’t do much for a year, she needed to highlight what she was finally doing,” the consultant, who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter, said of Hochul’s new legal filing.
Mayors and governors in New York have been the subject of legendary verbal knife fights and bitter rivalries — seemingly so inevitable as to make them a virtual tradition in state and city politics.
The battles can be bred by big egos and the institutional constraints placed on mayors, who can often see their goals rejected in Albany. New York City, despite being the largest city in the nation, is still heavily tethered to the power structure at the state Capitol.
John Lindsay and Nelson Rockefeller fought over mass transit funding and rent control.
Koch and Mario Cuomo competed against each other in a heated 1977 Democratic primary for mayor and a 1982 gubernatorial rematch.
Rudy Giuliani crossed party lines to endorse Cuomo in 1994, only to have fellow Republican George Pataki win.
Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio bickered relentlessly over a variety of issues, including Covid-19 response policy, Republican control of the state Senate and how to capture a frolicking deer, which eventually died.
That’s why it seemed so unusual when Hochul, elevated to the governorship after Andrew Cuomo’s resignation in 2021, and Adams, who won the mayoralty a few months later, quickly became close allies.
The two needed each other: Adams needed his public safety agenda to get through the state Legislature and past the governor. And Hochul, a Buffalo native, needed a friend in New York City, where her relationships have been slow to develop, according to people familiar with her thinking.
Hochul’s alliance with Adams was also part of a concerted effort to contrast herself with Cuomo, who often showed contempt for local leaders, especially de Blasio.
“I think both of them recognized that neither of their predecessors benefited from that kind of conflict,” former Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, said in an interview.
Until last week, Hochul had also stood by Adams’ management of the migrant influx, even as his criticism of Biden’s response strained the mayor’s ties to the White House. Adams and Biden haven’t spoken since last year.
An attorney for the state asserted in a letter to a judge overseeing a migrant case that Adams’ office had mishandled migrant policy while defending the governor’s response.
And Hochul, after facing criticism from her fellow Democrats that she has not led sufficiently well during the crisis, went on NY1 to try to calm matters, but also knocked Adams’ move to send migrants to upstate motels.
“Putting someone in a hotel on a dark, lonely road in Upstate New York and telling them they’re supposed to survive is not compassion,” she said, while also acknowledging the “enormous challenge” the state and city were facing.
Adams is now arguing the state government — as well as upstate cities — need to alleviate the burden of the tens of thousands of migrants who’ve arrived in New York. The city is running out of space after putting migrants in hotels and tent cities, he said, and that’s why he’s taken to sending some asylum-seekers to other parts of the state.
The mayor acknowledged the disagreement with Hochul last week, but downplayed its staying power.
“We’re human beings. I don’t agree with myself all the time. So I’m not going to agree with someone else all the time,” Adams said Friday on a radio show.
State Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs also sought to defuse the simmering dispute.
“I certainly don’t think it’s a rift, because I know the two of them — and they like each other,” Jacobs said in a phone interview.
Jack O’Donnell, a Western New York political consultant, said the clash of this past week between Hochul and Adams is nowhere near as personal as it was between Cuomo and de Blasio.
“Obviously this is a really tricky issue and there’s going to be friction, just like there’s always been friction between the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City,” he said. “But I expect this to be a bump in the road between Kathy Hochul and Eric Adams.”
Joe Anuta and Jeff Coltin contributed to this report.
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