Republican candidates for NY governor debate over crime, economy

Gun Rights

Four Republican candidates for New York governor pledged during a televised debate Monday night to undo years of one-party rule and focus on battling crime and improving the economy if elected to office.

It’s an uphill battle for Republicans vying for the governor’s office in New York, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 2 to 1. The state’s last Republican governor was George Pataki, who served from 1995 to 2006.

The field includes U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and businessman Harry Wilson. Candidate Andrew Giuliani, the son of New York City’s former mayor, appeared remotely.

Giuliani, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump, said he was barred from participating in-person in the Monday primary debate because he has refused to submit proof he’s been vaccinated against Covid-19. He said he told debate organizers he would take multiple tests leading up to and on the day of the debate.

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Giuliani said if elected, he will restore the jobs of public workers fired for not getting the vaccine. He pledged Monday to empower the police and called for a return to widespread stop and frisk policies in New York City.

In 2013, a judge ruled New York City police violated the constitution by stopping, questioning and frisking mostly Black and Hispanic people on the street en masse.

Astorino, a Republican former radio industry professional and two-term Westchester County executive, is running for governor for a second time. He’s promised to release an agenda to address New York’s steep job loss stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic on top of government corruption and the state’s high taxes and cost of living.

Buffalo and Western New York did not figure much into the debate.

The May 14 racially motivated Tops massacre received only passing reference during a question about what each of the candidates would do to protect New Yorkers from domestic terrorism.

Wilson said the focus should be on criminals, purveyors of hate and those with mental illness who have violent tendencies.

“Those are the three primary drivers of the problem, including the problem in Buffalo, and that’s what we’re doing a terrible job, because we have ineffective politicians running our state,” said Wilson.

Astorino followed up by pointing out the vandalism and suspicious fire set at a pregnancy center in Eggertsville earlier this month. 

The Christian organization’s expansion into the Buffalo area followed a merger with three previously independent crisis pregnancy centers here.

The Christian organization CompassCare opposes abortion and provides free basic medical care and counseling to pregnant women to encourage them to seek other options.

“Domestic terrorism is also the bombing of a pro-life center in Amherst, N.Y., and that person needs to charged as a domestic terrorist, as well,” said Astorino.

The 18-year-old Broome County man accused in the Tops Markets shooting that killed 10 people and wounded three others was charged by an Erie County grand jury with first-degree domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate. 

The other two candidates in the debate, Zeldin and Giuliani, also mentioned to need to get tough on criminals, but neither specifically referenced the Tops shooting. Giuliani said Buffalo “is in the top 10% of mid-level cities for violent crime.”

The two Democrats challenging New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s bid to keep her job criticized her Tuesday for her past backing from the National Rifle Association and the deal she reached to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. Hochul, appearing in her first debate Tuesday night, defended the stadium deal and said she her positions on guns had evolved in the 10 years since she got a favorable rating from the NRA. She is being challenged by U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island and New York City’s elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Astorino said Trump “bears some responsibility” in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection but said it’s time for the country to move on.

Zeldin, a Trump ally and an Army veteran who has represented New York’s 1st Congressional District since 2015, has accused Democrats of being soft on criminals and overzealous in imposing safety protocols intended to fight Covid-19.

Zeldin touted his support from the National Rifle Association and said he wanted to repeal a 2013 state gun control law that broadened the definition of assault weapons and required universal background checks in part.

When asked if New York should ban guns from specific public places in case the Supreme Court overturns the state’s concealed carry restrictions, Zeldin said: “Gun-free zones don’t work. They actually become a target.”

Wilson, of Johnstown, entered the race this spring by launching a $12 million television advertisement campaign.

He’s worked for Goldman Sachs and founded a White Plains advisory firm, and also served as a U.S. Treasury Department advisor under former President Obama.

Wilson faced criticism for his Democratic ties, with Zeldin calling him a “never Trumper.” But Wilson said Zeldin had asked him to run as his running mate, and vowed to use his private sector experience to end corruption in Albany.

News Staff Reporter Harold McNeil contributed to this report.

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