Hours after an 18-year-old gunman killed 10 people in a Buffalo supermarket, Gov. Kathy Hochul convened a news conference just blocks away.
She mourned for the tight-knit community and for the lives shattered by the cruelty of white supremacy. She spoke of the danger of hatred circulating online. And she talked knowingly of the neighborhood and the streets she had walked — and how it all hit so close to home.
Ms. Hochul grew up in the Buffalo suburbs and lives with her husband in the city’s downtown area, less than four miles from the East Side, the mostly Black neighborhood where a white gunman orchestrated one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent memory.
“This is personal” Ms. Hochul said a day later at True Bethel Baptist Church, a Black church one mile away from the site of the shooting. “You’ve hurt our family.”
In recent days, Ms. Hochul has called out tech companies that she said were not doing enough to stop the spread of online hate that motivated the gunman, and denounced Washington for its failure to impose what she said should be common-sense gun control laws.
On Tuesday, she appeared with President Biden as he visited Buffalo, a postindustrial city in western New York on the shores of Lake Erie. And in the coming days, Ms. Hochul has hinted that she plans to unveil a new gun safety package.
With the Democratic primary for governor six weeks away, and Ms. Hochul running for her first full term, the shooting has presented the governor with both an opportunity to engage with voters in a moment of crisis and a challenge to demonstrate whether she is up to the task.
From Opinion: The Buffalo Shooting
Commentary from Times Opinion on the massacre at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo.
- The Times Editorial Board: The mass shooting in Buffalo was an extreme expression of a political worldview that has become increasingly central to the G.O.P.’s identity.
- Jamelle Bouie: G.O.P. politicians and conservative media personalities did not create the idea of the “great replacement,” but they have adopted it.
- Paul Krugman: There is a direct line from Republicans’ embrace of crank economics, to Jan. 6, to Buffalo.
- Kathleen Belew, author and historian: The long game of white-power activists isn’t just to terrorize and intimidate nonwhites. Democracy itself is in the cross-hairs.
Indeed, the shooting, which law enforcement officials said was motivated by a white supremacist ideology fanned by some factions of the country’s right wing, has swiftly taken on political overtones in the escalating race for governor of New York, where gun violence has become a central issue.
One of Ms. Hochul’s primary opponents, Representative Thomas R. Suozzi, was in Buffalo when the shooting occurred. He immediately used the event as a political cudgel, proclaiming on Twitter, “Hochul refuses to make fighting crime a priority. I will.”
Mr. Suozzi, a centrist Democrat from Long Island, later issued a statement that took issue with Ms. Hochul’s record in Congress and endorsement during that time by the National Rifle Association, which has vehemently opposed gun control measures, including background checks.
“That is not leadership,” said Mr. Suozzi, who has received an F rating from the N.R.A. “It is hypocritical and it does nothing to protect New Yorkers from this kind of tragedy happening again.”
Representative Lee Zeldin, a Suffolk County Republican who is running to be his party’s nominee for governor, issued a statement over the weekend that pushed for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State, which was declared unconstitutional nearly two decades ago.
“Those who commit fatal hate crimes, acts of terrorism and other extreme violence should be brought to justice, and in some of these cases, the only fitting form of justice is the death penalty,” said Mr. Zeldin, who, visited the shooting scene on Monday to pay his respects to those killed, but did not take questions from reporters and avoided overtly political remarks.
But for Ms. Hochul, the shooting has more obvious resonance.
“I think the governor feels it on a whole different level, because she’s passed by the Tops, if not been in the Tops,” said Darius G. Pridgen, a pastor at the True Bethel Baptist church.
In the days since the shooting, the governor has visited churches and gone on television and radio, giving interviews to nearly a dozen outlets, from MSNBC and CNN to Buffalo’s long-running morning radio show, “Janet & Nick in the Morning.”
She has highlighted the state’s existing gun safety laws, seizing the opportunity to emphasize actions she has already taken as governor, such as an interstate task force that she assembled last year to tackle the illegal flow of guns.
And she has denounced the killings as “white supremacist acts of terrorism,” calling on white Americans to take a stand against racism.
“To say that she is taking this personally is to say the least,” said Jeremy Zellner, the chair of the Democratic Party in Erie County.
The governor has lived with her husband in a condo in the waterfront area of the city’s downtown area since 2013, shortly after she lost her seat in Congress — though she often splits her time between Albany and New York City since becoming governor in August.
Ms. Hochul got her start in politics as a member of the town board in Hamburg, a suburban town just south of Buffalo that is overwhelmingly white. While she briefly represented the East Side as clerk of Erie County, the House district she was elected to in 2011 was largely rural and suburban and did not include Buffalo.
She later helped promote economic development projects and job training programs aimed at the city as lieutenant governor to former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. As governor, she visited the East Side as recently as March to tout the construction of new affordable housing.
One of Ms. Hochul’s major priorities for the region involves addressing the racial and economic inequalities that were exacerbated by a stretch of highway that was built through the East Side. Ms. Hochul is spearheading a plan to reconnect neighborhoods that were divided by the Kensington Expressway over 60 years ago, saying last month that there was $1 billion available in federal and state funds for a project to potentially cover the expressway, or part of it.
“She’s from the suburbs, but in no way, shape or form a stranger to that part of the city,” said State Senator Sean Ryan, a Democrat who represents parts of the city’s West Side. “She’s a known commodity in terms of boots on the ground in neighborhood centers.”
The mass shooting came as New York’s gubernatorial primary, scheduled for June 28, looms large.
Ms. Hochul has amassed a gargantuan $20 million war chest and a huge polling advantage, but her campaign has faltered in recent weeks, battered by the arrest of her lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, on corruption charges, and criticism of a deal she secured to subsidize the construction of a new football stadium for the Buffalo Bills with taxpayer money.
Mirroring many Democrats nationwide, Ms. Hochul had recently pivoted her attention to the likelihood that the Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, radically redrawing the national landscape for women’s health care. Ms. Hochul has begun speaking more extensively about making New York a refuge for reproductive rights, vowing to enshrine abortion rights into state law and using her executive authority to create a $35 million fund to support abortion providers.
Her campaign released a television ad this week that highlighted her commitment on the issue, even as the shooting’s aftermath overtook most of her public schedule.
And on Monday, Ms. Hochul took the stage with Mr. Biden at a community center, seeking to draw parallels between Buffalo and the president’s hometown, Scranton, Pa. She said both leaders were used to their native cities failing to get the “respect” they deserved.
“I’m a daughter of Buffalo, and I’m so proud to be governor,” she said ahead of the president’s remarks. “But right now I’m a daughter of Buffalo.”