GOP Candidate Zeldin’s Crime Message Resonates in New York Governor’s Race

New York’s GOP candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, has spent much of the year focused on the streak of violent crimes and shootings, including a series of unprovoked attacks in New York City subways. While many other Republican candidates have focused their campaigns on inflation, Zeldin has lamented a series of violent crimes, including people being shoved onto subway tracks by strangers, stabbings, and a strange incident near Times Square where several women in green leotards attacked and then robbed two women on a train. 

Zeldin also focused on an incident where two teenagers were injured in a drive-by shooting outside his home this month. “I’ll tell you what: A lot of people are telling me that they’re keeping their head on a swivel more than ever before,” said Zeldin. “People are walking these streets in a way like they’re in a combat zone.”

As the November 8 midterm election closes in, Republicans across the country are spreading a message that Democrats are inattentive to crime. In New York, the message resonates as the race between Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul and Zeldin, a four-term congressman, tightens up

New Yorkers frustrated by spike in crime

“New Yorkers in cities are very, very frustrated by several years of a visible and palpable spike in crime and erosion in quality of life,” said Jon Reinish, Democrat strategist. “There are voters on the table who would normally be off the table.”

Rates of killings and violent crimes have dramatically increased across the U.S. since the Covid-19 pandemic. While there are various reasons for the rise in crimes, including the pandemic, Republicans have focused on criminal justice reforms after the killing of George Floyd by police. 

In New York City, rates of robbery, assault, burglary, and rape are all up, according to data from the New York Police Department. Crimes committed on city transport have risen since last year, with 1,800 crime complaints in 2022 on the subway system. 

While Hochul has stepped up her campaign attacks against Zeldin, portraying him as “too extreme” and emphasizing his ties to former President Donald Trump, but has recently refocused on public safety. A recent campaign ad promised that in her position as governor, she is working on providing, “a safe walk home at night, a subway ride free of fear, a safer New York for every child.”

Gov. Hochul dismissed the idea that he hasn’t been focused on crime, saying, “I’m not letting the political theater out there affect what we’ve done. This is not a new issue for me, and I think that’s what we established.”

As the election draws to a close, Rep. Zeldin has tried to distance himself from former President Trump. When he received Trump’s, Zeldin brushed off the endorsement saying, “It shouldn’t have been news,” and emphasized Trump “supported me before.”

David Paterson, former Democrat New York governor, said Trump’s endorsement of Zeldin is not a potent attack for Hochul compared with other issues New Yorkers face. “Because of inflation and issues of crime and also other problems that we’re having just in our quality of life, I think that voters are going to be a lot more pragmatic about how they’re doing now as to how they were doing previously, than necessarily who supports who,” said Paterson.