Hochul and Zeldin face off in the governor debate

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Lee Zeldin, the candidates for New York governor, stuck to their campaign issues in the first and only gubernatorial debate on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The candidates clashed over crime, economic revival, abortion, the 2020 election and COVID-19.

Though New York is considered a Democratic stronghold, polls suggest the race is heating up with Democrat Hochul Polls at pretty much exactly 50%. The incumbent’s crime policies — which Republican candidate Zeldin says are too lenient — have violated their campaign.

Hochul replaced disgraced Governor Andrew Cuomo after he stepped down in August 2021. Less than three weeks before the November 8 general election, Hochul announced more police officers would be deployed added to New York subway stations to reduce crime. In September, she announced that local law enforcement agencies would receive an additional $50 million in state funding.

Zeldin, who worked closely with former President Donald Trump during his tenure, has served as New York City’s 1st District Representative since 2015. In his campaign, he has prioritized the economy, crime and tax cuts. His platform goes several other issues not addressedincluding housing, healthcare and climate change.

The two faced off at Pace University in a debate hosted and live-streamed by NY1.


The candidates began the debate by answering questions about crime, which Zeldin has made a central theme of his campaign. He repeatedly raised the issue in other segments of the debate and vowed to remove Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whom Zeldin accused of not enforcing laws.

Most discussions revolved around cashless bail and gun control. Hochul defended both while Zeldin attacked bail bond reforms for contributing to rising crime rates.

“I don’t think that as a drug smuggler from the Mexican cartel who was arrested with $1.2 million worth of crystal meth, you should be released immediately on cashless bail,” Zeldin said. “We need to make our roads safe again.”

Zeldin also attacked Hochul’s campaign focus on gun crime, accusing it of ignoring other violent crimes, including stabbings and subway riders being pushed into tracks. Hochul’s administration was working on it limit concealed carry in locations considered sensitive, and her rhetoric in the debate focused on the importance of gun control in reducing crime, with repeated references to a recent shooting at a St. Louis school.


The candidates have opposing views on abortion, which became a critical one after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade — a 1973 decision that protected the right to the trial — in June has become an issue. Hochul pointed to Zeldin’s voting record on abortion – most recently he voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect abortion rights at the federal level.

“There are very few people in Congress who have a pro-life record,” Hochul said. “You can’t run away from your record.”

Hochul also noted Zeldin’s support for a bill defining life as beginning at conception. Zeldin sidestepped the subject, saying that the Dobbs case does not concern New Yorkers previous legislation codifying abortion. He also spoke about federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a national organization that provides affordable obstetric and gynecological care.

“I’ve actually heard from a number of people who consider themselves pro-choice who aren’t happy to hear that their tax dollars are being used to fund abortions in many states,” Zeldin said. “The will of the people I’ve heard from – they’re not happy.”

Presidential Election 2020

Hochul cited Zeldin’s close ties to Trump and accused him of being part of a conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Zeldin was one of 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the results, and accused of “rogue state actors” for the January 6 riot in the US Capitol.

“He helped [Trump] on Jan. 6 by backing them with an overthrow of an election,” Hochul said. “He sent text messages to stage the big lie.”

When asked by moderators, Zeldin said he would abide by the results of the gubernatorial race.


The pandemic became a major talking point for both candidates. Hochul stressed the effectiveness of vaccination and booster shots, especially given the “triple threat” of childhood respiratory disease, COVID-19 and the flu.

Zeldin said he opposes all COVID-19 vaccine mandates, adding that workers fired for failing to comply with vaccination mandates should be reinstated with back pay, especially in healthcare. He also falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine is fundamentally different from other vaccines because it does not prevent infection.

“Let me be clear to all the parents that are out there — I will never prescribe COVID vaccines for your children,” Zeldin said. “I don’t think there should be COVID vaccine mandates for our children at SUNY and CUNY, community colleges and elsewhere right now.”

Zeldin has emphasized parental rights in his campaign. In May he has introduced a “Student First” educational plan which blocked COVID-19 vaccination requirements. It also emphasized “the fundamental right of parents to be in control of their child’s education”.

Hochul said she wasn’t sure she would support a vaccination mandate in schools despite that Centers for Disease Control recommendations.


Both Zeldin and Hochul stressed the importance of reviving New York’s economy after the pandemic, although they disagreed on how best to move forward. Zeldin recommended cutting spending and slashing taxes, while Hochul pointed to her previous policies, including cutting taxes for the middle class and giving homeowners a tax break.

With housing costs rising across the country, both candidates proposed ways to bring down rising rents. Hochul pointed to a proposal to build more than 1 million houses that she will present at the next parliamentary session in January. Zeldin blamed lengthy permitting processes for pushing potential investors out of the state.

Zeldin also advocated lifting New York’s ban on natural gas exploration to generate revenue, saying the state “would be open for business again, baby.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected]


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