Kathy Hochul likes fighting for the underdog.
In a sense, she’s made a career of it.
The endorsed Democrat in the off-season contest to fill the 26th District U.S. House seat sees Western New York as one of the biggest underdogs out there.
To her job as Erie County Clerk, and before that a Hamburg town board member, and before that a small business booster anticipating how to counteract Walmart, and before that an attorney and aide to New York political leaders Sen. Daniel Moynihan and Rep. John LaFalce, Hochul always has been lured by the call to help make things fairer, saner, better.
The time and energy that Hochul gave to those jobs, she’d gladly burn on behalf of the 26th District now. Presently she and her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, live in Hamburg, which isn’t in the district, but they’re ready to pack up and relocate if she gets a summons.
“I feel like my values represent the values of this district. I feel like I’m right on the issues, particularly when it comes to Medicare and making sure the wealthiest don’t continue to get even more tax breaks,” she said. “And I’m very passionate about helping the underdog: People who don’t feel like they’re getting a fair shake in life, small business people who feel like they’re doing their very best and they’re just getting no support from government, that there are too many hurdles to overcome. That’s what I’m hearing in every community I’ve been in, and I want to do something about it.”
Hochul, 52, casts herself as a middle-of-the-road people’s representative, an “independent Democrat” who stands for middle-class and small-business interests. She trusts she’s speaking for the coffee shop crowd when she says of Congress, “People don’t like the hyperpartisan, us-versus-them mentality. They want (representatives) to stop the fighting and work together to solve problems.”
Hochul alludes to a series of video and printed attack ads, put out by opponent Jane Corwin and sympathizers, as a prime example of hyperpartisanship — and flat-out lying to voters. Corwin affiliates put out two new videos this week, one claiming Hochul “plans” to cut Medicare and Social Security, and another portraying Hochul literally as a “puppet” of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The first video earned a rating of “bogus” from factcheck.org, a nonpartisan Web site where political statements are examined. The second video earned a “sheesh” and rolled eyes from Hochul, who says she met Pelosi for the first time on May 13, when Pelosi visited a Hochul fundraiser in New York City.
Hochul asserts her work record stands as proof of her independence in the political arena. Twice the Democratic county clerk took on Democratic governors pitching schemes to New Yorkers, and both times she helped sink them. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer moved to allow issue of driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, and Hochul got written up by the New York Times as leading the charge to force Spitzer to undo the move. In 2010, Democrats in the state Legislature proposed raising $129 million for the state by requiring all vehicle owners to buy new license plates. Hochul was vocal about that, too, and said when the proposal was dropped, then-Gov. David Paterson called her to concede defeat.
"I’m not afraid of telling my own party when they’re wrong, or embracing a Republican idea when it’s right. I’m not partisan,” Hochul said. “I believe that’s why I was elected (clerk) with 80 percent of the vote last November. And that shows people of all parties will support me, because they trust my judgment and they know I’m a fighter.”
Hochul says she’s proud of the fact her Congressional campaign donor list includes the names of “Republican businessmen, small business people, Democrats, Republicans, independents, people who’ve seen me in the past and know me.”
On her individual donor reports there are over 450 listed contributed of $250 or less, she added. In contrast, Corwin’s reports show dozens of $1,000 donors, in addition to self-funding to the tune of $2.5 million; Tea Party candidate Jack Davis has taken no contributions, and is financing his up-to $3 million campaign solely from personal funds.
If voters really want a representative who understands their issues, Hochul says, her financials should stand as proof she’s the one.
“Congress should represent the people of this country. If the seats are sold to the highest bidder, in a sense only the wealthiest are able to go to Congress — and no wonder they’re trying to vote for more tax breaks for the wealthiest,” she said. “I don’t hold it against anyone if they’re able to be wealthy, not at all. It’s just that when you look at the institution of Congress, and the work that gets done there, I think people like the idea of someone who connects and relates and understands. ... All the people who gave me ($250 or less), those are the people I want to fight for.”