Poll: Most New Yorkers frown on public subsidy for new Bills stadium

Governor Kathy Hochul holds a COVID-19 briefing in Syracuse on April 20. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)

ALBANY — A new statewide poll shows Gov. Kathy Hochul registering a lower approval rating from voters along with a majority of New Yorkers displeased with the public investment of $850 million in a new NFL stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

The Siena College poll also showed New York voters are more pessimistic about the direction of the state than at any time since late 2010, when David Paterson was about to leave the governor’s office. Paterson and Hochul both found themselves in the state’s top job as a result of scandal-driven resignations of their respective predecessors, Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

The football stadium subsidy was slipped into the state budget by Hochul, a Buffalo native, in the waning hours of negotiations with legislative leaders. The poll revealed that 63% of voters oppose the package that benefits a football team owned by billionaires Terry and Kim Pegula, who are legal residents of Florida.

With the New York primary election looming in just two months, the poll suggested the Achilles heel for Hochul is the crime issue, with 69% of respondents giving her a negative rating in her handling of public safety challenges. She drew a 63% negative rating on an umbrella of economic issues — taxes, inflation and job creation.

Though voters said they generally support the new changes to the bail law that expanded the list of crimes for which defendants can face pre-trial detention, 38% said the changes won’t result in any reduction to the crime rate.

At a stop in the Buffalo area Monday, Hochul suggested the reaction gauged by the poll to the NFL stadium subsidy reflected contrary opinions to projects that offer no clear benefits to residents of regions far removed from the project site.

She brought up two downstate projects to make her case, though the ones she selected are not opposed by critics of “corporate welfare.”

“The billions of dollars we’re putting into Penn Station or the East Side Access Tunnel or ways to invest in projects elsewhere, I think if you poll test all of that, except for the immediate beneficiaries of that neighborhood, of that community, or patrons or fans, the answer would probably be the same,” Hochul told reporters.

Veteran New York campaign strategist Hank Sheinkopf said the latest polling data confirms residents believe the level of violent crime has gotten out of hand, a perception Hochul needs to tackle by taking steps such as appointing a special firearms prosecutor.

“If she doesn’t reverse that, she will lose the election,” Sheinkopf said. He also said that Hochul appears to have wounded her own electability by being the driving force for the controversial investment of public money into the Bills stadium.

“She is setting herself up for failure by doing exactly what the heaviest voting blocs in the state don’t want her to do,” he said. “And at the moment they don’t believe she can change course. That’s what’s disturbing about the data.”

If Hochul wins the Democratic primary, the poll reported 45% of voters said they will vote for “someone else” in November. Among registered Democrats, Hochul performed better, with 62% indicating they support her, though that was down from 71% a month earlier.

An ardent opponent of the NFL stadium subsidy, Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, said he believes questions about the deal will continue to dog Hochul.

“The governor seems to be wearing this deal like a badge of honor but she is completely misreading the situation,” Kim said. “It is indefensible that we spent this much money for a billionaire family in Florida that could have financed the entire thing on their own.”

The Siena poll showed 73% of voters support the state’s decision to suspend the 16-cent per gallon state tax on gasoline through December. Republicans and some Democrats had pushed for tax relief on gasoline for weeks before it was spliced into a package of budget bills.

In advance of the June 28 primary, Hochul is expected to have two debates with her Democratic rivals, Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Long Island, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Four Republicans are also running for governor, with Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, garnering the backing of GOP leaders and the state Conservative Party. The other contestants are: former Westchester Executive Rob Astorino, Andrew Giuliani and Harry Wilson.


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