• Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

Gov. Hochul congestion pricing flip-flop panned as political gambit for suburban N.Y. congressional seats

Gov. Hochul congestion pricing flip-flop panned as political gambit for suburban N.Y. congressional seats


Gov. Hochul’s controversial decision to indefinitely delay the long-awaited Manhattan congestion pricing plan is being seen in Washington, D.C. as a political panic move to boost Democratic hopes of retaking the House of Representatives.

Despite Hochul insisting to reporters on Friday that “the timing of the announcement is not related to the election months away,” political operatives on both sides of the aisle mocked the governor’s move as a ham-fisted effort to take a politically damaging issue off the table in hopes of boosting Democratic chances of flipping up to five GOP-held seats in the New York metro area.

Republicans predict the gambit will backfire by drawing even more attention to Democratic division and chaos on an issue that is profoundly unpopular with suburban voters.

“It was a stupid idea to begin with and changing it at the last minute isn’t going to fool anyone,” said an aide to a suburban Republican congressman locked in a compettive race. “It makes them look even worse.”

Even Democrats concede the poor optics of Hochul blindsiding fellow Democrats who support the plan could torpedo any possible political benefit.

“It’s a hanging-curve wedge issue for Republicans,” one Democratic strategist said.

Congestion pricing cameras at are pictured on West End Ave. looking North from W. 60th St. Friday, March 15, 2024 in Manhattan, New York.

Barry Williams for New York Daily News

Congestion pricing cameras are pictured on West End Avenue. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

Critics note that Hochul’s flip-flop came hours after she returned from a visit to Washington, where she attended President Biden’s announcement of executive actions designed to stem the flow of migrants at the southern border.

That raises the unproven theory that reversing congestion pricing reflects Democratic nervousness about how two damaging issues – immigration and inflation – could affect the party’s chances in November.

“No amount of posturing on congestion pricing will fix what voters already know: Democrats are the problem.” said Savannah Vlar,  a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

For their part, Democratic lawmakers and staffers scoff at the idea that Hochul’s congestion pricing decision had anything to do with her visit to D.C. this week or that President Biden or powerful Democcratic House Majority Leader Hakeem Jeffries engineered her decision.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., front left, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul, center, attend an event in the East Room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 4, 2024.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Gov. Hochul, center, is pictured at the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Some Democrats hopefully predict that Hochul’s policy gymnastics and the anger over her unexpected announcement will  fade by the time voters go to the polls.

“In the end, voters may just be relieved they won’t have to pay the extra fees,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and Hunter College professor.

Congestion pricing cameras at W. 60th St. and Broadway.

Barry Williams for New York Daily News

Congestion pricing cameras on W. 60th St. and Broadway. (Barry Williams for New York Daily News)

Congressional strategists from both parties have long seen congestion pricing as a potential albatross hanging over the Democratic effort to retake the House in 2024.

Republicans swept to an unexpected victory in the 2022 midterms in the New York area, flipping five seats in New York state and one in suburban New Jersey mostly on the backs of economic angst and fears of crime. Ex-Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island outperformed expectations by holding Hochul to a relatively narrow victory statewide.

Democrats hope to strike back by riding voter anger at former President Trump and fears of abortion, among other issues, to a resurgence this year.

After flipping ex-Rep. George Santos’s old seat on Long Island in a winter special election, Democrats have put a bullseye on the backs of suburban GOP lawmakers including Rep. Mike Lawler in Westchester County and Rep.Anthony D’Esposito on the South Shore of Long Islamd. Another target is Rep. Tom Kean Jr., who won a swing seat in suburban northern New Jersey.

All of the districts voted for Biden in 2020 and are expected to do so again in the fall. But all are home to legions of commuters who polls say are deeply opposed to the proposed congestion pricing, which would hit drivers traveling south of 60th St. in Manhattan with a $15 fee.

So the calculus among both Republican and Democratic strategists alike is that congestion pricing might have been a successful campaign talking point for GOP lawmakers seeking to turn away the challenges.

The stakes of that debate could scarcely be higher: Republicans hold a majority of just five seats in the House, meaning the road to a Democratic majority could literally run through the New York suburbs.

Jeffries, who would become Speaker if Democrats win the House, backed Hochul’s move along with Mayor Adams. But an aide told the Daily News that Jeffries did not talk to Hochul in advance about the reversal and Hochul decided on her own to pull the plug on the plan.

Despite the potential political benefit in congressional battlegrounds, some analysts noted that Democrats could suffer a backlash from the anger among many progressive Democrats and New York City residents over Hochul’s last-minute switch.

The divide highlights the serious divisions within the party, particularly between better-educated, affluent voters on the one hand and suburban working class swing voters on the other.

“Suspending congestion pricing opens another fracture within the Democratic Party,” said Lawrence Levy, a Hofstra University professor who studies political trends in suburbia, “The state and even national Democratic party has a lot to do, with less and less time, to secure their base at the same time they try to build bridges to moderate swing voters.”

 



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