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Crime reclaims focus in NY gubernatorial race following shooting outside GOP candidate's home

Congressman Lee Zeldin
WAMC.org
/
Ashley Hupfl
Congressman Lee Zeldin at an anti-max rally in Albany

New York’s crime rate is once again an issue in the governor’s race, after two teenagers were shot Sunday outside the home of Republican candidate Lee Zeldin.

Zeldin, a Long Island congressman, was back on the campaign trail after two 17-year-olds were injured in a drive-by shooting in the front yard of his home. Zeldin’s twin 16-year-old daughters were at home by themselves and immediately called the police and their parents. They were shaken up by the incident but unharmed. The two gunshot victims are in the hospital. Police believe that Zeldin and his family were not the targets of the crime.

Zeldin spoke about the incident Monday while marching with his daughters at the Columbus Day parade in New York City.

“They were experiencing something that couldn’t possibly be any more traumatic for two 16-year-old girls,” Zeldin said. “But they handled themselves swiftly and smartly."

It’s the second violent encounter involving Zeldin since he launched his bid for governor. On July 21, as Zeldin was giving a speech in a Rochester suburb, a man approached him with a plastic pointed defense-style keychain and grabbed his arm. The alleged attacker, David Jakubonis, was wrestled to the ground by campaign aides. Jakubonis’ lawyer later said that his client is a war veteran who struggles with mental health and addiction issues.

The Republican candidate says the incidents illustrate his belief that crime in New York is out of control, and that the public is concerned about it. He’s made the issue a priority in the campaign.

“If you’re going to talk to people about what they care about right now, they are talking about safety on our streets," said Zeldin. "They are talking about safety on our subways.”

Zeldin wants to roll back what he calls “pro-criminal laws” approved by Democrats in the governor’s office and the state legislature. They include the 2019 bail reform laws that ended many forms of cash bail.

He also wants to amend the Raise the Age law that ended the practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system. He says while the law had a good intent — to help teens accused of crimes get a fresh start — adults have been using teens to carry out crimes, knowing that they will receive lesser charges in family court.

The state’s crime rate has risen since the pandemic began, but it is still far lower than it was in past decades. Data on whether the bail reform laws have led to more recidivist crimes is so far inconclusive.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who is the Democratic candidate in the race, also marched in the Columbus Day parade, though she and Zeldin did not meet. Hochul says she’s been briefed on the shooting outside her opponent’s home and has offered to send State Police investigators to help catch the perpetrators.

“I’m so pleased that no one was injured, that the family is safe,” Hochul said.

Hochul supports the state’s recent criminal justice reforms, though she backed recent changes to make more crimes bail-eligible and to give judges more power to hold defendants before their trials.

The governor views the shooting outside the Zeldin home as another reason to double down on controlling the flow of illegal guns.

“It’s a reminder, we all have to work together to get guns off the streets,” said Hochul, who said she will do “everything” she can to make sure the streets are safe.

“That is one of my highest priorities,” she added.

Zeldin says the incident outside his home has not changed his opposition to the state’s gun control laws, including a new law that regulates the carrying of concealed weapons. Portions of that law were recently struck down by a federal judge. The ruling has been appealed by the state attorney general.

Zeldin says there’s a difference between career criminals and other New Yorkers who simply want to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

“I never will have any problem with a law abiding citizen who wants to safely and securely carry a firearm solely for self defense,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin and Hochul have not spoken directly about Sunday’s incident. Zeldin says at the time of the July attack, he asked Hochul for a State Police security detail, but his request was denied. Hochul says it’s up to the federal government to provide protection, because Zeldin is a congressman.

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.