On Sunday morning, while most people were stretching out with their cup of coffee, the Beth Gavriel Community Center was filled with eager voters looking to hear from Lee Zeldin, candidate for Governor of the State of New York. The Forest Hills community, which has been hit with increased crime and financial hardships in the past few years, eagerly listened as the Republican challenger laid out his agenda for the Empire State.
Attending the event, which was hosted by the Bukharian Jewish Link, was Congressional candidate Tom Zmich (who is challenging Rep. Grace Meng), State Senate candidate Mike Conigliaro (who is looking to flip the seat held by Andrew Hevesi), Queens GOP Chairman Tony Nunziato, Chazaq CEO Yaniv Meirov, Founder of Emet Outreach Rabbi Akiva Ruttenberg, Executive Director of Israel Heritage Foundation Rabbi David Katz, and 150 attendees who took time out of their weekend to meet Zeldin.
Opening the event was Yaakov Serle, publisher of the Bukharian Jewish Link and the Queens Jewish Link, who impressed upon the crowd the latest in Zeldin’s surging poll numbers amid the soaring crime and devastating economy of New York and America writ large. He then introduced Dov Hikind, former Brooklyn Assemblymember, founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, and registered Democrat.
Hikind’s political affiliation underscored a less-than-reported story of this election, which is how many lifelong Democrats are flocking towards Lee Zeldin. As Hikind said, “New York is in trouble, everyone knows that.” He expounded on the dangers of anti-Semitism rising in places like Brooklyn and Monsey, saying that “Jews [are] taking off their yarmulke[s] when they go to Manhattan” and “This is not Berlin 1933.”
Hikind blasted Kathy Hochul, whom he referred to as “the accidental governor,” for her lack of action on the crime problems in New York. “They have more compassion for the criminals than for the victims of crime,” he said. “The Democratic Party is the best friend of the criminal.” As Zeldin himself elaborated later, the New York Democratic platform on crime goes far beyond the no-cash bail law. Existing legislation recently signed into law limits the ability of the prison system to discipline convicts (HALT ACT) and raises the age of criminal liability for certain offenses (Raise the Age Act). Hochul also signed the “Less Is More Act,” a bill that allows more convicts to be released early. Other legislation, which has a lot of support in the State Legislature and would most certainly be signed by Hochul should she retain the governorship, invents a “Presumption Against Incarceration,” which basically says that prosecutors must prove why a guilty defendant should actually go to prison (Assembly Bill A09166).
Hikind ended his introduction by saying that this race could be “the greatest victory imaginable in America,” and he’s right. Flipping the Governor in New York would make the Virginia Governor race of 2021 look like child’s play. “We’re on the cusp of this great victory,” Hikind concluded. “You, and people like you, are going to push Lee over the finish line.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin was then brought up to a standing ovation, echoing the importance that New York has in American elections. “As goes New York, so goes America. As falls New York, so falls America. As rises New York, so rises the greatest nation in the history of the world,” he said. “The other 49 states don’t have a vote in New York, but you do.” New York, which boasts the fourth largest population in the country, the largest city in the country, and is the epicenter of the nation’s financial markets, has an outsized importance on the welfare of the rest of the nation. New York’s unemployment rate is a drag on the nation, as is its crime statistics and educational failures.
Zeldin emphasized that this is not just about Republicans, “This is about Republicans and Democrats and Independents uniting as New Yorkers to take back our streets, to preserve freedom.” Zeldin hit Hochul on ignoring the issues that face New Yorkers, instead focusing on irrelevant issues in the state like abortion and Trump, saying, “What you need is courageous leadership. What you need are elected officials who are recognizing this reality and not telling you to ignore what you are seeing with your own eyes.”
Zeldin lamented that Hochul refused to have joint events, like debates, saying that when he was up double-digit points against his challenger when running for Congress, he had over 20 joint events. Hochul agreed to one debate, and only after months of requests by the Zeldin camp. Zeldin claimed that Hochul is acting like a multi-term incumbent, instead of running for Governor for the first time. “She was not elected Governor; she was elected Lieutenant Governor. She’s filling out someone else’s term.”
Crime, which is on the front of everyone’s minds (especially for subway riders), was Zeldin’s main focus. “We are going to declare a crime emergency in the State of New York.” Hochul finally started to discuss the crime problem in the city – the day after a poll came out that Zeldin was up by one point. “Seventeen days before an election, she’s putting NYPD on the subways – not August 2021, when she comes in – not February 2022, when everyone is begging for it. Seventeen days before an election, the day after she gets a bad poll,” he exclaimed. “She’s been getting a lot of bad polls.”
He’s not wrong. While analysts at Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight still list New York as a Solid-D state in the Governor’s race, Real Clear Politics has it listed as a toss-up. The polling aggregate site currently lists the spread at 6.1 in favor of Hochul, a far cry from the 18-point advantage she had six weeks ago.
Zeldin and his supporters recognize that a Republican candidate has not had this good of a chance in a generation, and may not have another one for as long of a time. “This is our last stand for New York,” Zeldin concluded, “and losing is not an option.”
By Moshe Hill