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Zeldin visits pizza shop in an Albany neighborhood where crime is up and calls for change

Zeldin pizza 10-14-22.jpg
Karen DeWitt
/
New York State Public Radio
Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin, who's the Republican candidate for New York governor, takes a bite of the chicken parm pizza at Paesan's Pizza that was his favorite when he was a student at the State University of New York at Albany. Owner Frank Scavio is at left.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, visited his favorite pizza shop near the State Capitol on Friday for a slice — and to talk about concerns about rising crime.

Frank Scavio and his family run the shop — Paesan’s Pizza, a popular spot just blocks from the State Capitol and the governor’s mansion.

Scavio and five other family members lived in an upstairs one-room apartment when they began the business three decades ago. As he stood there Friday, he said the rising crime rate in the neighborhood makes him worried about how to stay open.

“I just want to sell pizzas,” Scavio said.

“In 30 years, I’d never think I’d have all these people standing here asking me questions about how to save my business,” he said, gesturing to the group of candidates, aides and reporters gathered in the small space. “Not in a million years.”

The pizza shop is a favorite of current and former college students, including Zeldin, who attended the State University at Albany and Albany Law School.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of those 4 a.m. customers here,” Zeldin joked.

Zeldin, now a congressman representing parts of Long Island, came for a slice of his favorite -- chicken parmesan pizza -- and to talk about concerns over crime.

Scavio said he no longer stays open late. He said students in the neighborhood left during the pandemic lockdowns, and crime has gone up. He now shuts his doors at 8 p.m., fearing for his staff’s safety.

“You name it, murder, shootings, everything,” he said. “It’s scary.”

Zeldin said if he’s elected governor, he plans to declare a crime state of emergency on Jan. 1 and issue executive orders rescinding all the recent criminal justice reforms approved by Democratic governors and the Democratic-led State Legislature.

They include bail reform, which ended most forms of cash bail; Raise the Age, which no longer treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; and laws that make it easier for prison inmates to become eligible for parole.

“The laws on day one that we are talking about here are going to be suspended,” said Zeldin, who added the suspension would last 30 days.

He said he would then work with the Legislature to change the laws.

Zeldin said his opponent, Gov. Kathy Hochul, has not done enough to fight crime.

Hochul in April convinced the Legislature to amend the state’s bail laws to make more crimes eligible for bail and to give judges more discretion to hold defendants before trial.

In a statement, Hochul campaign manager Jerrel Harvey said Zeldin has “no credible plan on public safety” or to address gun violence, and he said the congressman’s proposal for the executive orders shows he doesn’t understand “the basics of governing or democracy.”

When asked by reporters, Scavio could not say whether the changes to the laws contributed to the increasing incidences of crime in his neighborhood. He pointed out, though, that Albany County District Attorney David Soares, a liberal Democrat, has cited them as contributing factors.

He said he’s willing to work with politicians from both parties to come up with a solution, adding that he’s met successfully with Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat, and the city’s police chief.

“We’re trying to do right,” Scavio said. “This is a problem that just keeps on growing, and it’s not just in Albany. It’s across the state. It’s across the country.

“The community needs to step up and really contribute, because this is not going to be solved by one person.”

He said he and other business owners are also struggling with inflation and staffing shortages. They are asking for help from elected leaders, he said — and they don’t care what party they belong to.

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Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.