The one debate between Governor Kathy Hochul and Congressman Lee Zeldin for the keys to the Governor’s Mansion occurred last week, and the Zeldin team had much to celebrate. The final pitches to the voters from each side could not stand in further contrast, and that contrast could be enough to flip a deep-blue state.
The opening statements laid out what the next hour was going to be. Zeldin pushed the issues facing the state under Democratic rule, and Hochul focused on Zeldin himself. “We’ve experienced on so many levels of attacks on our wallets, our safety, our freedom, your children’s education,” Zeldin began. “You’re poorer and less safe because of Kathy Hochul and extreme policies.” Hochul claimed that she is focused on tax cuts and public safety, but immediately emphasized the differences between her and Zeldin. “You will see a great contrast here tonight between myself and my record and someone who has been called one of Donald Trump’s strongest and most loyal supporters,” Hochul said. “He helped him on January 6 by supporting the overturning of an election. He sent text messages trying to orchestrate the big lie, and he opposes sensible gun safety laws, as well as opposing a woman’s right to choose.”
Zeldin stayed focused on crime throughout the debate. He hit Hochul on appointing champion of Defund the Police movement Brian Benjamin as Lt. Governor, only to have him resign in disgrace over corruption charges, and for not doing anything about Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. He pushed for specific legislation to be repealed, and for unequivocal support of law enforcement. When it was Hochul’s turn, she demurred by saying, “data is still being collected,” and that she “did focus on bail reform in our budget.” That focus was to allow judges to consider the “dangerousness” of a defendant when considering bail, yet did not define a “dangerousness standard.” New York is the only state to not have a standard, meaning that judges are less likely to set a cash bail in any but the most extreme cases so they don’t have to endure the backlash from the politicians.
Hochul’s main focus on crime is gun crime, and she pivoted every chance she could to that. Hochul has been pushing for stricter gun laws after the Supreme Court overturned the 1911 concealed carry law in the state. The law that she proposed and signed since then has had large parts of it held up by the courts for being blatantly unconstitutional. Yet she claims that to tackle crime, it is “about getting the guns off the streets. That’s the first start. We have more to do, but I’m the one to do it.”
Zeldin punched back, saying that “you got people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars. They’re being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers. Go talk to the Asian American community and how it’s impacted them with the loss of lives. Jewish people targeted with raw, violent antisemitism on our streets.” Statistically, he’s right. Violent attacks - especially on the subways and in the Asian and Jewish communities - are up. The crimes may not be committed with guns, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.
Zeldin actually pushed on the crime issue so hard that Hochul actually dropped the ball on her defensive posture, gaffing with the line, “I don’t know why that’s so important to you.”
This wasn’t the only issue that Zeldin had a complete advantage over Hochul. Another one was Covid, which is on the minds of New Yorkers after two pivotal decisions came the previous week. The first is the addition of the Covid-19 vaccination to the CDC immunization schedule - a schedule that is used by many states to determine which vaccines they require for public school attendance or government employee requirements. The second is a court decision by a State Supreme Court Judge in Staten Island that required the state to rehire all the employees that were fired for not getting the jab, with backpay. While Zeldin had a clear stance on mandates by saying, “I will not mandate COVID vaccines for your kids ever,” Hochul again demurred, saying, “We’re not talking about mandating a vaccine for children in school at this time” - with the implication that she will sign any law requiring it. She also attacked the public employees who wouldn’t get vaccinated, saying, “I would do it all over again, what I did last year, that mandate for healthcare workers.”
When offered a chance to ask their opponent one question on the debate stage, Zeldin asked about the pay-to-play corruption scandal that Hochul is in the middle of, where she is accused of giving the contract for Covid tests to a major campaign donor despite the fact that they charged twice as much as their competitors. Hochul’s question was: “Is Donald Trump a great president?”
Of all the questions that Hochul could have asked Zeldin, she asked about Trump, who (if she didn’t notice) is not on the ballot in 2022. In fact, she seemed to be obsessed with Trump, mentioning him or the 2020 election multiple times during the debate. Zeldin handled himself with aplomb, saying that the info he was sending Trump’s team about legal challenges during the election was in early November, before the election was even certified, and that his vote to not certify the election was based on executive decisions in Pennsylvania and Arizona, not because of any “conspiracy theory.” Hochul had no comeback, and just repeated “Trump” over and over again.
The full debate is still available online, and should be watched in its entirety. The contrast between these two candidates is incredibly clear, and even if you’ve made up your mind, you should know what they said.
The aftermath of the debate, at least for the Zeldin team, was one of euphoria. Even though he still trails in the polls, his performance thus far has drawn the attention of heavy hitters around the country. Political commentator Ben Shapiro referred to Zeldin as his “sleeper pick” of wins this election season. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis left his own campaign trail to come to Long Island to speak at a Zeldin rally. DeSantis’s popularity, combined with the enthusiasm that New York Republicans have not had in a generation, drew a crowd of over 7,000 people to Hauppauge Saturday night.
Hochul, meanwhile, is still in the defensive posture, like a football team with a lead in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. She’s playing prevent defense, but as John Madden said: “The only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” On MSNBC, she spoke with Al Sharpton, notorious race baiter and instigator of the Crown Heights riots, about crime. “These are master manipulators,” she told Sharpton. “They have this conspiracy going all across America trying to convince people that in Democratic states that they’re not as safe. Well guess what? They’re also not only election deniers, they’re data deniers.” So, according to Hochul, crime is a Republican conspiracy.
Hochul must feel comfortable talking to Sharpton, now that she’s done courting the Jewish vote, something she could not successfully accomplish. Rabbinical leaders in Orthodox communities throughout Brooklyn and upstate are endorsing Zeldin, a massive departure from previous years. These leaders have the ability to sway thousands of votes from one candidate to another, so their support for Zeldin may be the clincher.
Yet no one should rest on their laurels. Election day is November 8, but early voting has already begun. Everyone should get out and vote for Lee Zeldin, Alison Esposito, Michael Henry, Joe Pinion, and every other Republican on the ballot. That’s the only way we can save our state.
Disclaimer: The Queens Jewish Link does not endorse political candidates. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
Moshe Hill is a political columnist and Senior Fellow at Amariah, an America First Zionist organization. Moshe has a weekly column in the Queens Jewish Link, and has been published in Daily Wire, CNS News, and other outlets. You can follow Moshe on his blog www.aHillwithaView.com, facebook.com/aHillwithaView, and twitter.com/HillWithView.