The race for the governor of New York is unusually close this fall. That probably reflects the frustrations of many voters in the state: Like millions of other Americans, New Yorkers are living with sharply higher costs for housing, food and fuel; higher rates of crime; an unsteady economy; and schools where teachers and students are struggling to overcome two years of learning loss. A total of 71,623 people in New York have died of Covid as of Oct. 21, and the pandemic left many others ill, isolated or angry at the failures at all levels of government to protect them and get the state moving again. New York City’s transit system has not regained its ridership, office towers are not full, and the financial system has taken longer to recover than in many places in the United States.
This is fertile ground for a candidate like Representative Lee Zeldin of Long Island, the Republican nominee for governor. He can easily be mistaken for the moderate that he likes to portray: just another average New Yorker worried about jobs and safety, family and gas prices. Someone who wants to shake up Albany and get things done.
New York has a long, proud tradition of moderate, thoughtful Republicans, from George Pataki to Nelson Rockefeller. Mr. Zeldin is not part of this tradition.
Over and over again, he has demonstrated a loyalty to Trumpism over his oath to defend American democracy and the Constitution. In his campaign for governor, he makes spurious arguments about crime, and his public safety plan appears to be little more than returning to the zero-tolerance policies that have no clear connection to improving safety. Ads from Mr. Zeldin’s campaign use threatening images of Black men to stoke panic, and one features a crime that took place in California. And the plans Mr. Zeldin has laid out during this campaign lack a serious interest in the work of governing, at a time when the state needs strong, energetic leadership.
Compare that with the record of Kathy Hochul, who has used her first year in office as governor to show that she can get things done to improve the lives of New Yorkers. Ms. Hochul has set aside political drama to make progress on the things that matter most to New Yorkers — health, safety and access to good jobs and housing. For that work, she has our endorsement for a full term.
Ms. Hochul, who took office after Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in August 2021, made some important changes right away. She appointed top-notch leadership, including Dr. Mary Bassett, the state’s health commissioner, and Janno Lieber, chair and chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who have brought competence and zeal to two of the toughest jobs in America. Ms. Hochul has worked diligently with Mayor Eric Adams of New York on issues from transit to crime, and their respectful partnership is a refreshing change from the petty, ego-driven rivalry of Mr. Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Her determined, collaborative approach to governing dovetailed with important economic and policy advances — again, without the drama of the Cuomo years or the divisiveness that a Trump-supporting governor would bring. Her record includes an upstate hydropower, solar and wind initiative expected to create thousands of jobs, a proposal for a new rail line in New York City, tax cuts for middle-class families and small businesses, expanded child care subsidies for families of four earning up to $83,250, and $25 billion for affordable housing. Ms. Hochul has struck a deal to bring Micron Technology, a computer chip company, to upstate New York, a move that could add thousands of jobs in the state. Along with the State Legislature, she has strengthened laws that protect reproductive freedom and voting rights and ensure gun safety. Her approach to managing the nation’s largest transit system has been to hire the right people and then get out of the way and allow them to oversee long-overdue upgrades.
In her actions, Ms. Hochul has demonstrated a steady, cooperative and focused hand in an uncertain era. That’s equal measures temperament and the urgency of circumstance. But it’s also the mark of a leader who is focused on finding solutions to the big problems — such as battling the economic headwinds hitting the state — rather than getting off track with partisan warfare.
Mr. Zeldin speaks passionately about the fears that New Yorkers have about crime, but his ideas don’t stand up to scrutiny — they won’t improve safety and they amount to an undemocratic power play, such as his plan to declare an emergency for crime. He told the Times editorial board this week that he would remove from office the elected district attorney of Manhattan, Alvin Bragg, who has continued the work of criminal justice reform that the state and city have pursued in recent years. Earlier this year, Mr. Bragg revised some of his policies; Ms. Hochul was among those who urged him to do so. That kind of open dialogue makes for better policy. A governor who would consider removing an elected official over a policy disagreement is nullifying the will of the people of New York.
Ms. Hochul has been a steadfast defender of strong gun laws. After the Supreme Court struck down the state’s law on concealed-carry restrictions, she quickly mobilized the Legislature to draft new legislation.
None of this is to suggest that Ms. Hochul does not still have work to do as governor. Even with a Democratic majority in the State Legislature, change has been slow, and public safety, in particular, has risen to the top of many voters’ concerns. In New York City, crime overall is up about one-third so far this year from 2019 levels.
Ms. Hochul has not articulated a plan sufficient to address the state’s housing crisis. We’d also like her to set a higher standard for ethics in Albany — her decision to accept campaign donations from individuals who sit on state boards and company executives who have business before the state has been particularly disappointing. So, too, is her lack of transparency around the state budget process. These practices are business as usual in Albany, but Ms. Hochul has a chance to raise the bar.
Mr. Zeldin, on the other hand, has called the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade “a victory for life, for family, for the Constitution, and for federalism” — a position misaligned with a vast majority of New Yorkers. In Congress, he voted for legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks with few exceptions.
He has one of the worst environmental records of any member of Congress from New York, according to the League of Conservation Voters, and would reverse the state’s ban on fracking. As a state senator, he voted against the 2011 Marriage Equality Act, which legalized gay marriage.
What’s worse, Mr. Zeldin has embraced the conspiracy theories and lies surrounding the 2020 presidential election. Dozens of court cases in several states have found that there was virtually no fraud in that election. When asked if he accepts those conclusions, Mr. Zeldin told this editorial board in an interview that “none of us at this table know” the extent of the fraud. But, in fact, we do.
Mr. Zeldin played an active role in attempts by Donald Trump and his allies to undermine American democracy. According to evidence shared with the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack, Mr. Zeldin sent text messages on the day before the election was called for Joe Biden to Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, suggesting “ideas” for how to use unsubstantiated allegations about voting irregularities. Hours after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, Mr. Zeldin voted against certifying presidential election results in states that Mr. Trump lost, although he said to this board that he never claimed that President Biden’s victory was illegitimate.
Not only his beliefs but also his actions in the wake of the 2020 election make Mr. Zeldin unfit for the office he is seeking. Across the nation, at the ballot box, Americans this fall are being asked questions about where they stand on truth, integrity, the rule of law and on democracy itself. New Yorkers are no exception.