Gov Race Heats Up: Zeldin, Hochul Camps Trade Calls for Investigations

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) celebrates his win on June 28, 2022 becoming the Republican candidate for governor.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) celebrates his win on June 28, 2022 becoming the Republican candidate for governor.
Photo by Bruce Adler

Democrats are calling for an investigation into alleged election fraud from supporters of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in his bid to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul — and the East End congressman responded by renewing calls for an inquiry into the governor’s dealings.

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, who’s also the Nassau County Democratic chairman, threw his weight behind a state lawmaker’s request that Albany prosecutors probe how nominating petitions — paperwork candidates file with boards of elections to get on ballots — with photocopied signatures were filed instead of petitions featuring the original signatures.

In response, Zeldin called for an examination of Hochul’s role in contracts in which campaign donors or family members were benefactors.

“This is election fraud,” Jacobs told reporters during a news conference on August 16. “And I think that it definitely needs to be looked into. But (in) the first instance, I’m sure that everybody would agree that Lee Zeldin, his campaign and the Republican Party need to answer: How did this happen? Who did it, and what were the circumstances surrounding it?”

Days earlier, Zeldin issued a statement renewing calls for an investigation into various scandals surrounding the Hochul administration.

“During the Cuomo-Hochul administration, Kathy Hochul’s MO was to always be silent, complicit or out to lunch scandal after scandal,” said Zeldin. “Now, Cuomo 2.0 is making Albany’s culture of corruption far more toxic than ever before.”

The intensification of the exchanges between the two sides comes as Election Day is still three months away in an unpredictable campaign cycle. Republicans are hoping for a repeat of last year’s red wave of GOP voters turning out at the polls to turn the tide in the Empire State, a Democratic stronghold that hasn’t had a Republican governor in 16 years.

Hochul is the state’s first woman governor — appointed to the job after her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, resigned amid a string of sexual harassment accusations — asking voters to return her to office.

ZELDIN PHOTOCOPY FRAUD?

The case of the photocopied petitions intensified earlier this month when state Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the senate election committee, filed a complaint with Albany District Attorney David Soares asking for an investigation into allegations.

The claims alleged that the improper filing of 11,000 signatures on petitions seeking to get Zeldin on ballots for the Independence Party line in the governor’s race rose to the level of criminality and not mere oversight, as the Zeldin camp counters.

“In my role as Chair of the Senate Elections Committee, I have not hesitated to defend our system of elections from spurious allegations of fraud,” Myrie wrote to Soares, according to City & State. “However, when actual election fraud appears to have occurred, as it does in this case, it is essential for the public trust that potential violations are investigated fully and swifty. For that reason, I urge you to use your powers to investigate these apparent violations of public integrity.”

The district attorney’s office has indicated that the letter is under review but a formal investigation has not been officially launched. The Zeldin campaign responded in a statement denying the allegations.

“Our campaign had no knowledge of any photocopies and didn’t make any photocopies,” read the statement, which referenced the governor’s support for criminal justice reforms. “Hochul is desperate for any distraction she can possibly muster to get heat off her pathetic support for cashless bail.”

The state Republican officials said the issue was the hurried pace of campaign workers trying to compile the paperwork in time for the deadline, not an intentional effort to deceive the board of elections.

New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, left, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, center, listen as Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY), speak during New York's governor primary debate at the studios of WCBS2-TV, June 7, 2022, in New York.
New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, left, New York Governor Kathy Hochul, center, listen as Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY), speak during New York’s governor primary debate at the studios of WCBS2-TV, June 7, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

RENEWED CLAIMS AGAINST HOCHUL

In the days between Myrie’s letter to Soares and Jacobs’ news conference, Zeldin issued a statement renewing his call for investigation into several questions that have been raised regarding Hochul’s record.

Among them, Hochul’s handpicked lieutenant governor, Brian Benjamin, was arrested on federal corruption charges in April. Hochul, surprised by the arrest, replaced him with former U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado.

There has also been press scrutiny of her administration spending $600 million in taxpayer funds with a company owned by the Tebele family, who are among the governor’s top campaign donors.

That’s in addition to her role in a deal to build a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills with $850 million in taxpayer money.  The governor has faced claims that it is ethically dubious Hochul’s husband, William Hochul is general counsel for Delaware North, the company that runs concessions for the current Bills stadium.

“The media is breaking stories on scandal after scandal surrounding Kathy Hochul and no prosecutor or other investigative body at any level of government is expressing any interest in looking into any of it,” Zeldin said. “Kathy Hochul should not be receiving this level of impunity across the board …. The lack of interest by prosecutors and other investigative bodies reeks just as much as the pay to play allegations and other corruption being detailed in media reports.”

Hochul has said that Delaware North sells concessions around the globe and had nothing to do with the stadium deal. Additionally, Hochul said she and her husband have always kept a separation between their home and work lives.

~ With PoliticsNY

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