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Election Day features Hochul against Zeldin and other key races

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New York NOW
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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, left, and Rep. Lee Zeldin.

Tuesday is Election Day, and it brings to an end the surprisingly close and hard-fought race for governor of New York between Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin. Now it’s time for the final voting for those who did not cast their ballots early.

It seemed at first like the race would be a relatively easy one for Hochul, who took over as the state’s chief executive when Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace in August 2021.

Hochul, a Democrat who is seeking to be the first woman to be elected governor in New York, was not well-known. But she was regarded favorably by the majority of New Yorkers. She’s based her campaign on preserving abortion rights in New York in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“We will stand up for future generations and say: ‘We will protect the right to an abortion in this state, right here, right now, and forever,’” Hochul said at a Nov. 3 rally with Vice President Kamala Harris and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hochul has also worked to pass new gun safety laws. She argues that Zeldin would endanger democracy. Zeldin, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election.

“MAGA Trump Republicans will never get a stronghold in a state like New York,” Hochul said at a rally with labor leaders on Nov. 2.

Zeldin, who is anti-abortion, said he would not change New York’s abortion rights laws if he is elected. And he downplays his ties to Trump, saying that he doubts most New Yorkers care much about a past president and instead want to look to the future.

Zeldin has been gaining ground in recent weeks by focusing on worries over the increase in violent crime, and Hochul’s once-healthy lead in the polls has narrowed to single digits in some cases.

The congressman has appeared at numerous crime scenes to make his point -- including his own front yard after a gang-related shooting occurred outside his Long Island home. He believes that repealing the state’s 2019 bail reform laws, which ended many forms of cash bail, would go a long way toward solving the problem.

He said on his first day in office, he would issue executive orders temporarily rescinding the bail reform laws and other recent criminal justice changes to pressure the Legislature to make changes.

“On day one, we are going to declare a crime emergency here in the state of New York, and we are going to suspend New York’s cashless bail laws,” Zeldin said at a rally outside Binghamton on Nov. 6. “And force them to come to the table.”

Zeldin said he will also remove local district attorneys who he believes aren’t doing enough to prosecute crimes.

Hochul last April convinced the Legislature to tighten the bail reform laws, and she says no anti-crime package will be effective without gun safety measures, something that Zeldin opposes.

In the closing days of the campaign, both candidates called on heavy hitters in their parties to draw attention to their closing arguments and to motivate supporters to vote.

President Joe Biden on Sunday evening attended a rally for Hochul in Westchester County, a key swing suburban area. He said electing Hochul matters.

“We face one of those inflection points,” Biden said. “We all know it in our bones that our democracy is at risk.”

Zeldin called on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in rallies held during the final week.

“The consequences for not electing Lee Zeldin will be dire in New York,” Youngkin said at a campaign event on Oct. 31. “And you know it.”

Youngkin won his seat in 2021 in an upset over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Zeldin hopes to follow in his footsteps and become the first Republican governor since George Pataki was elected to the first of three terms 28 years ago.

“Are you all ready to party like it’s 1994 again?” Zeldin asked at a rally outside Albany on Nov. 3.

Hochul in the final days focused on energizing her backers in New York City, which is dominated by Democrats. Hochul, who is from Buffalo, said she hopes to do better upstate than past candidates for governor in her party.

“I’m the first person running for governor from upstate in 100 years,” Hochul said. “So areas that had not been friendly to Democrats are my home base.”

The race for governor is not the only statewide contest on the ballot.

The attorney general’s spot is also open. Democrat Letitia James is seeking re-election against GOP challenger and private practice attorney Michael Henry. The contest for comptroller pits incumbent Tom DiNapoli, also a Democrat, against challenger Paul Rodriguez, a Republican. And U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is the Democratic Senate majority leader, faces Republican Joe Pinion.

Every state Senate and Assembly race is up for election, as well as all of New York’s 26 congressional seats.

There is also a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act on the back of the ballot. Supporters say it will fund infrastructure projects to combat the effects of climate change and help prevent more global warming.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.