Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking Thursday in Buffalo, said “many, many people” believe Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would make a stronger candidate than Nate McMurray in the race to unseat Rep. Chris Collins, but denied he enlisted former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt to urge McMurray to drop out.

Cuomo’s remarks follow published reports that Hoyt contacted McMurray in an alleged attempt to steer the Democratic Grand Island supervisor into a race against state Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Republican.

“There’s no secret that many, many people have been trying to get Kathy Hochul to run,” Cuomo said during a visit to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to promote economic development initiatives. “And many, many people have said Kathy Hochul would be the strongest candidate, and many, many people say that she would be a stronger candidate than Nate McMurray.

“If Kathy were willing to run, I think that would be the best chance the Democrats have to win this seat,” Cuomo added. “There’s no doubt about that. But she’s not willing to run.”

Hoyt reportedly confirmed that he contacted McMurray, but said the conversation focused on Democratic efforts to retake the state senate and did not involve Hochul’s political future. Hochul is now in a battle for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor after New York City councilman Jumaane Williams declared his candidacy for the job.

McMurray, who has been endorsed by the Democratic committee chairs of all eight counties in New York’s 27th Congressional District and has no remaining primary opponents, said Friday he was disappointed by Cuomo’s comments.

“The governor is not out there with me in the 27th District,” McMurray said in a statement. “He does not see the energy and enthusiasm we see, not from big donors but from regular people. ... I wish the governor would join me on a trip to Batavia or Warsaw or Lockport and see the support we’re feeling in those rooms.”

McMurray said he respects Cuomo, but suggested the governor preferred Hochul in the race because they’re both “political elites.”

“Clearly I’m not part of the Washington/Albany insider game,” McMurray said. “But you know what? I want no part of that mess. This is a new era. It’s an era where the people again decide what’s best, not a group of political elites.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro blasted Cuomo over the reports, noting Hoyt has weathered two sexual misconduct scandals.

“Drafting Sam Hoyt, a two-time sexual harasser, someone Cuomo claimed to sever ties with, to dump a sitting woman office holder, a loyal running mate no less, as lieutenant governor is a disgrace and the height of hypocrisy,” Molinaro said in a statement.

Hoyt was reprimanded by the Assembly in 2008 after admitting he had a sexual affair with a 19-year-old intern. After resigning from his Erie County legislative seat, Hoyt was appointed by Cuomo to a $157,000-a-year job at Empire State Development in 2011, the year Cuomo became governor. Hoyt abruptly resigned from that post last October after a female acquaintance, Lisa Marie Cater, alleged he pressured her to have an affair with him.

Cater, in a federal court lawsuit against Hoyt and Cuomo, charges that Hoyt helped land her a job with the state Department of Motor Vehicles in 2016 and used his government position in an effort to sexually harass her. The Cuomo administration has denied the charges that Cater has made against it.

Were Hochul to take on Collins this November, it would mark her second race against the Clarence Republican for the 27th District seat. In 2012, Hochul’s district lost to Collins with 49 percent of the vote. It was her first election since her district was redrawn and renumbered from the 26th to the 27th.

Political forecasters see little chance for Democratic success in the current 27th district, which is the most conservative in New York. The Cook Partisan Voting Index found that Republicans have an 11-point advantage in the district.

Still, in June, House Democrats, with help from Cuomo, named Collins as one of six House Republicans they would target in 2018 as part of the “New York Fights Back” campaign.

Chris Grant, a consultant for the congressman’s re-election campaign, has previously been dismissive of Democratic chances to retake the seat. 

“Chris looks forward to talking to voters in NY 27 about his pro-growth, smaller government message,” Grant said after an Erie County prosecutor, who has since dropped out, announced his plans to challenge Collins. “We’ll contrast that with Andrew Cuomo and Nancy Pelosi’s new handpicked candidate any day of the week.”

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