Hochul, Zeldin spar over crime, abortion rights, in one and only debate of the campaign
The two candidates for New York governor, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking election to a full term in office, and challenger Republican Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, sparred in a spirited debate held on Spectrum News Tuesday night that touched on crime, abortion, and threats to democracy.
Zeldin, who has made fighting crime a focus of his campaign, says that if elected, he intends to create a crime state of emergency on his first day as governor. He says he would rescind recent criminal justice reforms, including bail law changes that ended most forms of cash bail, and that he says favor criminals, because the people want him to.
"This is our opportunity. Two weeks from tonight, we can continue with the status quo, where they believe they haven’t passed pro criminal laws,” said Zeldin. “Or we can take control of our destiny and make sure law abiding New Yorkers are in charge of our streets again.”
Hochul says she oversaw changes to the state’s bail laws to make more crimes bail eligible, but says the answer to curbing crime is not that simple.
“You can either work on keeping people scared, or you can focus on keeping them safe,” Hochul said.
And she says decreasing the number of illegal guns has to be part of the solution.
“There is no crime fighting plan, if it doesn’t include illegal guns,” said Hochul, who said Zeldin refuses to discuss gun safety measures.
“You didn’t even show up in Washington when a bi partisan group of enlightened legislators voted for an assault weapons ban,” she told the Congressman.
Hochul repeatedly brought up Zeldin’s congressional record, including his vote on January 6, 2021, against certifying the 2020 presidential election which Joe Biden won, and Donald Trump lost.
Zeldin says he voted against the certification because he was concerned over potential technical problems with voting in Pennsylvania and Arizona, allegations that were later proved unfounded.
Hochul also several times during the debate tied Zeldin to Trump, who has endorsed Zeldin in the race , asking the congressman at one point whether he thinks Trump, who is unpopular in New York, was a great President.
“Is Donald Trump a great president,” Hochul asked Zeldin. “Yes or no?”
Zeldin demurred, instead recounting economic development projects Trump brought to Long Island and crediting him for his handling of the pandemic.
The congressman steered his remarks several times to questions over campaign donations Hochul has received, and whether there was pay to play involved in state purchase orders, including one awarded to a donor for deliver COVID tests. Hochul says there was no quid pro quo and that she follows the rules. Zeldin also questioned a the $1 billion deal the governor cut to build the Buffalo Bills a new stadium, saying it was too favorable and if he is elected governor he would re negotiate the deal and that he disagrees with “giving a multi billion dollar owner of a football team all of these tax dollars, which aren’t yours as governor."
“You actually are supposed to be steward of the money,” Zeldin said.
The debate also addressed abortion rights, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s over turning of the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade in June.
Zeldin, who opposes abortion, says he won’t change New York’s law, which codified the rights in Roe into state law. But he would not directly answer a question on whether he would sign a bill banning abortion in New York, if the legislature passed one, saying that in Blue New York, that is not going to happen.
“When we woke up the day after the Dobbs decision, the law in New York was exactly the same as it was the day before,” Zeldin said. “And I’m not going to change that.”
Hochul, who backs abortion rights, says the only reason nothing changed after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision is because she is governor. And she cast doubt on Zeldin’s promise to not interfere with New York’s abortions rights laws, asking he voted in Congress to ban abortions.
“You even said on the first day that you’re willing to suspend laws, how do we know you won’t do it then,” Hochul said to Zeldin, “I don’t trust this, women don’t trust this.”
Afterward, both candidates claimed that they had won the debate.