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Republican gubernatorial candidates debate in Rochester, days before next week's primary

The four candidates in the June 28 Republican Primary for NY Governor met in Rochester on Tuesday night for a debate.
The four candidates in the June 28 Republican Primary for NY Governor met in Rochester on Tuesday night for a debate.

Candidates in next week’s Republican primary for New York Governor met in a debate Tuesday night in Rochester at the Kodak Center on West Ridge Road.

The debate was the third meeting among these four candidates, Rob Astorino, Andrew Giuliani, Harry Wilson and Lee Zeldin. And at this debate hosted by the conservative media outlet Newsmax, it was also the first time all four could physically be in the same room for a debate.

Giuliani was not able to be on stage and had to take part virtually in the first two debates due to his vaccination status.

This final Republican debate before next Tuesday’s primary was a pretty raucous one. Lee Zeldin, often referred to as the front-runner with the backing of his candidacy by county GOP chairs around the state, was often the target of barbs by his rivals Tuesday night, including an exchange between Zeldin and Wilson, where Zeldin pushed back on the notion that he had been too supportive of former Governor Andrew Cuomo, when Zeldin had been a state senator.

“But actually, at the beginning of 2011, Harry Wilson was writing an op ed in the Daily News calling on us to support Andrew Cuomo’s agenda,” said Zeldin.

Wilson replied, “That is not true. It is not true…everything Lee Zeldin said is politician talk for ‘I rolled over and gave Andrew Cuomo the keys to the kingdom.’ That's exactly what happened.”

Another favorite topic of Republican candidates this year, crime, was a focus in this debate as well, with the candidates calling for changes in bail reform and other recent criminal justice reforms. Giuliani was among those saying he would be a strong supporter of law enforcement.

“Unfortunately we've been sending the wrong message to police. They will know as your governor, there is nobody that will back the police to the degree that I will,” said Giuliani.

And on the topic of education, the GOP rivals were talking a lot about the need for school choice, including Astorino.

“I’m a very big proponent of charter schools,” said Astorino. “We should have no caps in New York, and we do, and that means too many low income students are waiting, waiting.”

The Republican Primary candidates did take a few pokes at Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul during the evening, but with the primary just days away, they saved a lot of their sniping for each other.

In the June 28 primary, Hochul faces challenges from Democrats Tom Suozzi and Jumaane Williams. There are also primaries in both parties for Lt. Governor.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.