early and often

Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin Spar Over Crime, Trump, and the Buffalo Bills

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

On Tuesday evening, Governor Kathy Hochul and Congressman Lee Zeldin met for their one and only debate of the governor’s race that is suddenly a lot closer than most people expected. The Democratic incumbent assailed her Republican challenger as an extremist beholden to Donald Trump, while he accused her of making New York less safe and less affordable under her watch. Below are some of the key moments from the debate.

On crime, it’s illegal guns versus cashless bail

The debate began on crime and public safety, which have been at the top of voters’ concerns in the waning weeks of the race. Zeldin has capitalized on Hochul’s support for the elimination of cash bail, saying that it has made crime worse. The claim is contested by some evidence from the state, which Hochul leaned into with her counterattack. “You can either work on keeping people scared or you can focus on keeping them safe,” she said, adding that she delayed the state’s latest budget in Albany to work on “common-sense changes” to the bail-reform law. Then she accused Zeldin of being weak on crime himself.

“There is no crime-fighting plan if it doesn’t include guns, illegal guns, and you refuse to talk about how we can do so much more. You didn’t even show up for votes in Washington when a bipartisan group of enlightened legislators voted for an assault-weapon ban,” she said.

Zeldin quickly hit back. “Unfortunately, Kathy Hochul believes that the only crimes that are being committed are these crimes with guns. You have people who are afraid of being pushed in front of oncoming subway cars,” he said. “They’re being stabbed, beaten to death on the street with hammers. Go talk to the Asian American community on how it’s impacted them with the loss of lives. Jewish people targeted with raw, violent antisemitism on our streets.”

The subject later turned to Zeldin’s promise to fire Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg on his first day in office if elected governor, accusing him of violating his oath of office in how he treats criminal suspects.

“Alvin Bragg is not doing his job. The message will absolutely be sent that if you’re the DA, it stands for district attorney, not defense attorney,” Zeldin said. “Alvin Bragg can go be a defense attorney, but if he’s not going to do his job, I’m going to do my job and I’m going to remove him as soon as I can.”

In response, Hochul quickly responded by calling him anti-democratic.

“I’m not surprised because, in Lee Zeldin’s world, you overturn elections you don’t agree with. You can’t throw out someone who was duly elected,” she said. “Yes, I’ve worked with all of our district attorneys and given them more power to do their jobs. But for someone who voted to overturn a presidential election, I’m not surprised he just thinks whenever he wants to do something, he can just undo the will of the people.”

“I’m governor of New York and he’s not.”

On the subject of abortion, Hochul was asked if there were any restrictions that she would support and she replied that New York’s law is “simply a codification of Roe v. Wade,” but didn’t get into other specifics. But she then went after Zeldin, who has been claiming recently that he would not make changes to the state’s abortion law because the state legislature will stay in Democratic hands.

“What is so appalling is the sort of general campaign conversion that we’re trying to hear from Lee Zeldin who will say, ‘Nothing really changed the day after the Dobbs decision.’ You know why nothing changed the day after the Dobbs decision? It’s because I’m the governor of New York and he’s not,” she said.

Zeldin responded, saying the state has codified “more than Roe” but repeated his claim that he has no plans to alter the abortion law. “When we woke up the day after the Dobbs decision, the law in New York was exactly the same as it was the day before and I’m not going to change that,” he said.

Pop quiz: Trump is great, yes or no?

NY1’s moderators included a cross-examination section where the candidates were allowed to ask one question of their opponent. Hochul asked Zeldin, “Is Donald Trump a great president?” and asked him to answer “yes or no.”

Zeldin instead gave a lengthy answer, listing some of Trump’s accomplishments in office, including “our work on the southern border” and strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship

After the congressman was eventually cut off by the moderators for time, Hochul quipped, “I will take that as a resounding yes and the voters of New York do not agree with you.”

We’re still debating the 2020 election

On January 6, 2021, the congressman from Long Island voted to object to the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona, part of a Trump-led effort to ultimately keep him in power despite losing the election. Zeldin was asked about the vote and said he would do it again.

“The vote was on two states: Pennsylvania and Arizona. The issue still remains today,” Zeldin said, elaborating that his reasoning had to do with changes made to how the states administered their elections during the pandemic. “You’re gonna have more health emergencies and natural disasters. The United States Constitution says that state legislatures set the administration of election law. That was the question I articulated then. That’s the question I’ll articulate now. And it’s about looking forward, not backwards.”

The moderators then asked if Zeldin would accept the results of this election if he were to lose to Hochul. “First of all, losing is not an option,” he said. “Secondly, playing along with your hypothetical question, of course.”

The Buffalo Bills are the Broadway of Western New York

Hochul was asked about whether the state’s planned $600 million investment in building a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills was a wise decision. The governor, who hails from Buffalo, defended the move in colorful fashion.

“You think about the identity of a community. Like Broadway is to New York City, the Buffalo Bills are to Western New York,” she said.

Hochul added that the team was looking to move outside of the city, so the subsidy for the franchise and its billionaire owner was crucial to keep them here.

“So, we structured a plan. And if you look at just the salaries of the players, they do very well. The tax proceeds that we’ll receive from just the players alone after 20 years will more than pay for that investment,” she said.

On the other side, Zeldin said the negotiated deal could’ve been better.

“I was just at a Bills game recently. It’s a great place to watch a game. But giving a multibillion-dollar owner of a football team all of these tax dollars, which isn’t yours as the governor.”

Zeldin also accused Hochul of “putting the squeeze” on the Seneca Nation, whose casino revenues are being utilized in the deal.

And on Hochul’s point that the Bills were planning on leaving the state?

“They’re not leaving,” Zeldin said, bluntly.

Hochul, Zeldin Spar Over Crime, Trump, and the Buffalo Bills