Questions for Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin
Gov. Kathy Hochul, the Democratic incumbent from Buffalo, remains the front-runner, given her party’s huge advantage in registered voters. But Representative Lee Zeldin, a staunch conservative from Long Island allied with Donald J. Trump, has been making meaningful inroads among independent and suburban voters, putting him within just a few points of Ms. Hochul in recent polls.
At a time when New York is grappling with a turbulent economy, elevated crime and a growing climate catastrophe, the differences between the two candidates are unusually stark.
Mr. Zeldin has voted consistently to limit abortion rights; Ms. Hochul has made herself their defender. He wants to expand the extraction of climate-warming natural gas; she opposes it and is pushing a congestion pricing plan to help reduce emissions in New York City. He is pushing to reverse criminal justice reforms that he says are spurring more crime; she mostly stands by the spirit of those laws. And though they have both vowed to make New York more affordable, their proposals have little overlap.
Whoever wins on Tuesday will face enormous challenges over the next four years. Here are the candidates’ views on six important issues.
— NICHOLAS FANDOS
Like other states, New York has experienced an uptick in crime since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. But a string of high-profile incidents, including mass shootings on the subway and in a grocery store in Buffalo, has intensified fears among New Yorkers that public safety is deteriorating rapidly.
Mr. Zeldin, who grew up in two law-enforcement households, has made crime the centerpiece of his campaign and blames attempts by progressive Democrats to overhaul the criminal justice system. “Vote like your life depends on it,” he says in his closing campaign message. “Because it does.”
His platform notably calls for firing Alvin L. Bragg, who was elected the first Black Manhattan district attorney last year.
Mr. Zeldin has also said he will declare a state of emergency on his first day as governor to suspend legal changes passed through the Democratic-led Legislature in recent years, including a 2019 law that barred prosecutors from seeking cash bail for certain crimes. The action would face a stiff legal challenge, but Mr. Zeldin has framed it as a way to force the Legislature to the negotiating table.
As governor and as a candidate, Ms. Hochul has argued that the approach championed by Mr. Zeldin and other Republicans is simplistic and places too much emphasis on bail laws.
She has worked with Mayor Eric Adams to expand services that help unhoused people with mental health issues, announced a plan to install cameras in every subway car and more recently sent a flood of police officers into the subways, where crime increases have been pronounced.
Under pressure from Mr. Adams and over the objections of liberal Democrats, the governor did push through changes to the bail law as a part of the state’s annual budget, making it easier for judges to set bail in some cases. But Republicans like Mr. Zeldin argue they left too much of the law in place.
Ms. Hochul, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association a decade ago, has also stressed the need to confiscate illegal guns, signed legislation strengthening the state’s so-called red flag laws and tried to limit where New Yorkers can carry a concealed firearm. Mr. Zeldin, a gun-rights advocate, opposes limiting access to guns.
— NICHOLAS FANDOS
The Economy and Inflation
Polls in the governor’s race show that inflation is a top concern for New Yorkers, and both candidates have highlighted their plans to improve the state’s lagging economic recovery.
Mr. Zeldin has argued that the state budget is far too big at $220 billion and that the high cost of living is a major reason people are leaving the state.
He wants to introduce a state spending cap and to approve the “largest tax cut” in state history. He has not provided full details about how exactly he would cut programs and taxes, but has said he would like to eliminate the state’s inheritance tax and, if he could, income taxes. At the same time, Mr. Zeldin has called for expanding fracking to boost economic activity in the rural Southern Tier.
“New York is going to be back open for business, baby — Jan. 1,” Mr. Zeldin said at a recent debate.
Ms. Hochul has argued that she provided steady leadership as the state recovered from the pandemic, and she recently celebrated a deal with Micron, an American computer chip maker, to spend as much as $100 billion to build a factory complex in upstate New York. The state incentive package is $5.5 billion, one of the largest ever by any state.
“I said I would jump-start the economy and ensure that New York State was the most business-friendly and the most worker-friendly state in the nation,” Ms. Hochul said at the Micron announcement.
In response to high gas prices, Ms. Hochul worked with state lawmakers to temporarily suspend some state taxes on gas — about 16 cents per gallon — through the end of the year, and she has sent election-year tax rebates to homeowners. But the governor largely supports the state’s current tax rates.
She has also criticized Mr. Zeldin for voting against the federal infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, which will lower prescription drug prices for people on Medicare and send large federal investments to the state for climate related projects. He called the bill bloated and misguided.
— EMMA G. FITZSIMMONS
New York has prided itself for generations on being a safe harbor for abortion rights. But the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to end federal protections for the procedure that were guaranteed by Roe v. Wade has once again thrust the issue to the forefront of public debate.
Ms. Hochul’s record on the issue is clear. As Republicans rushed this summer to put in place strict abortion bans from Missouri to Texas, she moved to allocate $35 million in state funding to expand abortion access in New York and take the first steps to permanently enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution.
“This is repulsive at every level,” Ms. Hochul said in the immediate aftermath of the court’s decision, insisting that New York would remain a “safe harbor” as long as she remains in office. At her direction, the state even took out advertisements reminding New Yorkers of their reproductive health options while inviting other Americans to seek refuge in New York.
Mr. Zeldin’s stated position has become murkier, particularly as he has campaigned this fall in a state where close to two-thirds of adults believe abortion should be legal in almost all cases.
As a member of Congress, he repeatedly voted for federal legislation limiting abortion rights and defunding Planned Parenthood. He cheered on the Supreme Court’s decision as “a victory for life, for family, for the Constitution and for federalism.”
And as a candidate in the Republican primary, he went as far as to tell New York Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, that he supported overturning the 2019 state law guaranteeing abortion access.
But in the race’s closing weeks, he has insisted in television ads and statements that he would not actually try to reverse the law as governor. He also argues that the Democratic State Assembly would never approve such changes even if he pushed for them.
“I would not and could not change New York’s abortion laws,” he wrote in a campaign text message targeting New Yorkers.
Still, there are steps he could take to make it harder to get an abortion in New York, and he has already indicated that he might look to cut the funds Ms. Hochul allocated this year.
“I’ve heard from New Yorkers who say that they don’t want their tax dollars, for example, funding abortions for people who live, you know, 1,500 miles away from here,” he said in late October during his only debate with the governor, on NY1.
— NICHOLAS FANDOS
The governor controls the New York City subway, not the mayor — a fact that has vexed many mayors, who feel powerless to fix a critical piece of the city’s infrastructure.
The next governor could have great sway over the future of the transit system. One major issue is congestion pricing, a plan to toll drivers entering the core of Manhattan.
Ms. Hochul supports the plan and says it is necessary to raise money for the subway and to ease congestion; Mr. Zeldin opposes the plan and argues that New Yorkers cannot afford tolls as high as $23.
As New York marks the 10th anniversary of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the state is at a climate crossroads. Democrats in Albany adopted one of the nation’s most ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the country. But the next governor will play a significant role in how the law actually gets implemented in the coming years.
In just a year as governor, Ms. Hochul has advanced many of the environmental priorities put in motion by fellow Democrats. She moved to require all new passenger cars and trucks sold in New York be zero-emission by 2035. She increased the size of a $4.2 billion environmental bond act going before voters this fall, and she has promoted large investments in wind and solar power and blocked upgrades to gas-fueled power plants.
At the same time, though, the governor has held out support for some more ambitious actions championed by environmental activists, like a bill that would push the New York Power Authority to phase out fossil fuels.
Mr. Zeldin has said he supports a cleaner environment, but he opposes many of the steps the state has taken to get there.
Mr. Zeldin’s own energy policies are largely focused on driving down costs, regardless of the environmental impact. He opposes the state’s ban on fracking and has made the extraction of natural gas in New York’s Southern Tier one of the top economic pledges of his campaign. Communities there are “desperate for being able to reverse the state’s ban,” Mr. Zeldin said in the debate, adding that he would also approve new pipeline applications.
He has also been a consistent critic of the congestion pricing plan, which is designed to reduce automobile traffic and help fund greener public transportation, but will be costly for commuters. He opposes Ms. Hochul’s move to ban gas-powered cars and supports suspending the state’s gas tax.
The League of Conservation Voters has consistently given him among the lowest environmental records in the state; earlier this year he voted against Congress’s landmark legislation designed to slash carbon emissions.
— NICHOLAS FANDOS
Three years ago, New York City reached its maximum share of charter schools under a regulation that limits that sector’s growth statewide. Ms. Hochul and Mr. Zeldin have both expressed support for raising the cap on the number of charters allowed in the city, setting the stage for a contentious debate in next year’s legislative session. The city’s teachers’ union and many Democratic lawmakers are opposed to expanding charters, which are publicly funded but privately run.
Mayoral control of city schools will also come up for the next governor, when Mr. Adams’s authority expires in 2024. Both candidates have said they support extending mayoral control.
The candidates are divided on other flashpoint issues in education, however. Mr. Zeldin has voiced support for arming teachers and school safety agents to prevent school shootings, for example, an idea that Ms. Hochul opposes and has argued would make children less safe.
Mr. Zeldin has argued against what he calls the teaching of “divisive and destructive concepts” in schools, like critical race theory, a term that describes a framework used at the university level to study racism. But restrictions on how schools address race and other cultural issues are unlikely to win support among Democrats in the State Legislature, and Mr. Zeldin has become less vocal on the issue in recent months.
Finally, the next governor may face questions about the oversight of Hasidic Jewish private schools. Ms. Hochul has resisted taking a firm position since a New York Times investigation found that scores of yeshivas are systematically denying children a basic secular education, while Mr. Zeldin has vowed to protect the schools from governmental interference as he seeks to win over Orthodox Jewish groups.
— TROY CLOSSON