As New York voters head to the polls to pick their next governor, they have the choice between electing a woman for the first time in state history or electing a Republican for the first time in two decades.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, is seeking a full, four-year term after she first took office last August, with her campaign focusing heavily on her efforts to protect abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She has a huge party-enrollment edge: New York has twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
But recent polling shows Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican congressman from Long Island who has centered his campaign on crime and public safety, is making a race of it, with several polls showing him within single digits of Hochul. If elected, he would be the first Republican to win a statewide race in New York since Gov. George Pataki was elected to a third term in 2002.
Early voting runs through Sunday, Nov. 6, with Election Day set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.
Here’s where the candidates stand on the top five issues on New York voters’ minds, as measured by Quinnipiac University in its Oct. 18 poll:
Crime (top issue for 28% of voters, according to Quinnipiac)
Zeldin, like many Republicans nationwide, has made rising crime the signature issue of his campaign. And he’s vowed to take two major unilateral actions in response.
If he wins, Zeldin says he will immediately declare a state of emergency on crime, which would allow him to suspend the state’s recent criminal justice reforms for 30 days at a time — including measures that prevent cash bail from being imposed in most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases. Such a maneuver would almost certainly draw a court challenge, and state Democratic legislators could easily overturn any law suspension with a simple majority vote.
Zeldin has also pledged to use his gubernatorial powers to remove Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who, on his first day in office, unveiled a policy in which his office would decline to prosecute certain low-level criminal offenses and seek prison sentences only as a last resort. The state constitution allows the governor to remove sitting district attorneys — but only after serving them with a list of charges and giving them a chance to be heard.
Hochul is generally supportive of New York’s bail reforms, which were enacted prior to her taking office. But she shepherded some tweaks to the system through the state Legislature earlier this year — including a measure making it easier for a judge to set bail for someone charged with a second crime while awaiting trial on a separate case.
The governor has also touted her recent push to bolster the presence of police officers and cameras in New York City’s subway system. But the issue of guns is where she’s trying to set herself apart from Zeldin.
After a Supreme Court decision made it easier to get a concealed carry permit in New York, Hochul signed a series of gun control measures into law — including a measure establishing gun-free zones in a wide swath of the state, including Times Square, the subway system, schools, and places of worship. (Those measures are now being challenged in court, and early decisions have gone against the state.)
Zeldin, meanwhile, has opposed the state’s gun control measures. And just last week, he sounded support for arming and training teachers in schools — which drew a quick rebuke from Hochul on Monday.
Inflation and the economy (top issue for 20% of voters)
In her short time in office, Hochul has used the powers of the state’s $220 billion budget to push middle-class tax incentives. That includes the acceleration of a modest, pre-planned income tax cut as well as a $1 billion property tax rebate program, which saw more than 2 million households get rebate checks in their mailboxes a few months before Election Day. She and state lawmakers also cut the state’s gas tax by about 17 cents through the end of the year.
In June, she pushed through a bill that would provide up to $10 billion in state tax breaks for the semiconductor industry over the next 20 years — a measure meant to boost the state’s chances to lure chipmakers to the state. And last month, that tax break helped net a big fish: Micron Technologies committed to build a massive complex near Syracuse that promises to create up to 9,000 jobs.
Zeldin, meanwhile, says he would cut taxes. In fact, he says he wants to pursue what he claims would be the largest tax reduction in state history, including by eliminating the estate tax and cutting (or ending) income taxes across the board — regardless of a taxpayer’s wealth.
But the details of his plan have been scarce to nonexistent. He hasn’t specifically said how much he would cut taxes, nor has he detailed how he would pay for it, aside from telling the Business Council that he would look at cuts to the Medicaid program — the single-largest expense in the state budget.
Another issue Zeldin has championed: fracking.
Zeldin says he wants to open up the Marcellus and Utica shale formations — which stretch across the state’s Southern Tier into the Catskills — to natural gas drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a way to boost the region’s lagging economy. To do so, he would have to reverse the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s ban on the practice, which was first announced in 2014 after a lengthy moratorium because of environmental and health concerns.
Hochul supports leaving the fracking ban in place, as do environmental groups that say the technique has the potential to harm the state’s land, air, and water.
Protecting democracy (top issue for 14% of voters)
Zeldin was a major defender of then-President Donald Trump on cable news programs throughout Trump’s term in office. And on Jan. 6, 2021, Zeldin voted to object to the certification of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona and Pennsylvania, states where Trump lost.
Hochul has made Zeldin’s Jan. 6 votes — and his general support of Trump — a major piece of her campaign, featuring it in television advertisements that have been in near-constant rotation.
During the lone gubernatorial debate last week, Zeldin defended his votes against certifying the two states’ results, which had already withstood numerous court challenges by that point. He said his vote was based on objecting to various COVID-era changes made to the two states’ voting rules.
“The issue still remains today,” Zeldin said. “You are going to have more health emergencies and natural disasters. The United States Constitution says that state legislatures set the administration of election law, and that was the question I articulated then, it’s the question I’ll articulate now.”
For her part, Hochul signed a bill into law in January 2022 that extended the state’s temporary rule allowing anyone afraid of catching a communicable disease (such as COVID) to vote absentee. That law is now the subject of an ongoing lawsuit led by Republicans, who claim it violates the state constitution by effectively letting anyone vote by mail.
Hochul also signed into law a series of reforms to the absentee ballot application and counting process, the latter of which is also being challenged by state Republicans. The new canvassing process requires local election officials to inspect and prepare absentee ballots for counting prior to Election Day, a move meant to speed up the counting process.
Abortion and reproductive rights (top issue for 6% of voters)
Of the many clear divides between the two candidates, this may be the clearest.
Hochul has made abortion rights the centerpiece of her campaign. She supports the state’s current abortion law, which lawmakers passed in 2019. It allows for the procedure at any point until the end of the 24th week of pregnancy — or at any point thereafter if the mother’s life or health is in danger, or if there is an absence of “fetal viability.”
While in office, Hochul dedicated an extra $35 million for abortion providers in New York who were anticipating an influx of out-of-state patients when the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning federal Roe v. Wade rights.
Zeldin’s record shows long-standing opposition to abortion.
In Congress, Zeldin voted for the the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would make it a crime in most cases to provide an abortion to a woman more than 20 weeks from fertilization, with exceptions for rape victims and if the woman’s life is in danger. He also currently co-sponsors the Life at Conception Act, which would declare the constitutional right to life begins at fertilization.
He opposes the state’s current abortion law — and, in a June primary debate, said it should be “rolled back,” particularly as it relates to the broad health exemption for late-term procedures. Since winning the GOP primary in June, he’s softened his stance, saying he does not intend to change the law if he wins.
Affordable housing (top issue for 5% of voters)
This is an issue the two candidates sparred over only briefly in the lone gubernatorial debate.
Hochul included a five-year, $25 billion affordable housing plan in the most recent state budget, which includes nearly $11 billion to fund shelters, rental subsidies, and housing with supportive social services.
All told, she claims it will “create or preserve” 100,000 affordable units across the state, including 10,000 with support services. That’s less ambitious than the affordable housing plans in New York City, where former Mayor Bill de Blasio had set a goal of creating or preserving 300,000 units by 2026.
Hochul also signed a bill in June that eases rules for converting underused hotels to housing if they’re already near residential areas.
Zeldin has also acknowledged the need for more affordable housing, particularly in New York City, though he has not gotten specific. He has pledged to help “fast-track” construction, and said he supports requiring lawsuit filers to submit a bond when filing a challenge to housing projects.
He’s also called for a state audit of NYCHA, and pledged support for bolstering first-time homebuyer credits — though he has not specifically said how or by how much.