Andy Cuomo and the Anti-Immigrant Pol Who Seconded His Nomination for Governor


Andrew Cuomo missed an opportunity to name a minority running mate at the recent Democratic convention. He was so conscious of the state’s first all-white Democratic ticket in 20 years that he asked Bill Thompson, the black former city comptroller, to nominate him and Vivian Viloria-Fisher, a Dominican Suffolk County legislator, to second his nomination.

Cuomo was not so ethnically sensitive, however, about the other person who seconded him, Kathy Hochul of upstate Erie County.

Hochul was one of the leading opponents of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s 2007 proposal to grant driver’s licenses to people without regard to immigration status. She even threatened to summon sheriff’s deputies if undocumented immigrants appeared at her DMV office.

Spitzer was ultimately forced to retreat from this policy initiative, which touched off a storm of resistance, but Cuomo said his office would defend the policy.

Hochul objected to Spitzer’s executive order, which ordered clerks like her to accept passports as suitable identification for a license if applicants lacked a social security number.

Appointed to the Erie County position by Spitzer when he elevated the sitting clerk to the head of the state motor vehicle department, Hochul came out against Spitzer’s order just months after taking office.

She still features it on her website, where she lists “some of Kathy’s recent projects” and includes “fighting against driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.”

Her opposition helped earn her the early endorsement of the Conservative Party in her ongoing campaign for re-election this year.

“I oppose this law 100 percent,” she said at the time of Spitzer’s actions. Hochul engineered the introduction of a resolution before the Erie County legislature urging the governor to rescind the order or allow county clerks to refuse to follow it, rounding up four legislative sponsors for her bill. She assailed a legislator who blocked the legislation: “I guess cronyism and partisan politics are more important than stopping illegal immigrants getting driver’s licenses.”

No Latino has ever held a statewide or citywide office, an anomaly considering how large a voting bloc Latinos have become in New York. Cuomo’s selection of the controversial Hochul may well be perceived by Latinos as adding insult to injury.

Research credits: Gavin Aronsen and Michael Cohen