Zeldin Loses: Hochul Beats East End Congressman in Governor’s Race

Governor Kathy Hochul (left) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin 2022 election candidates
Governor Kathy Hochul (left) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin
Photos courtesy of Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul and Zeldin campaign

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the East End congressman, lost his bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who became the first woman elected governor of New York State on Tuesday.

The results came after a hard-fought campaign in which Zeldin, originally a longshot GOP candidate for statewide office, made the race competitive by focusing on concerns about crime and inflation. But his message wasn’t enough to oust Hochul, who campaigned on her record of ensuring women’s reproductive rights and advancing efforts to combat climate change through renewable energy projects, among other initiatives.

Hochul, speaking at a stage in New York City under a glass ceiling, declared victory late Tuesday evening but The Associated Press had not yet declared a winner in the race.

“I have felt a weight on my shoulders to make sure that every little girl and all the women of the state who’ve had to bang up against glass ceilings everywhere they turn, to know that a woman could be elected in her own right and successfully govern a state as rough and tumble as New York,” she said.

Zeldin acknowledged that he was trailing, but he told the crowd he expected a “massive” victory in parts of Long Island where few voting results had been reported as of midnight.

“We hope as these results come in that we’ll be able to prevail,” he said at his election night party in Manhattan.

With 70% of the election precincts reporting statewide, Hochul had 55.77% of the vote (2,284,774) over Zeldin’s 43.34% (1,775,460) when she declared victory shortly after several news organizations called the race in her favor. Missing from those results were votes from Zeldin’s home turf, where Suffolk County officials were delayed in reporting vote tallies due to internet connectivity issues, officials said.

Also elected was Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Hochul’s running mate who took office earlier this year. Former NYPD Deputy Inspector Alison Esposito was Zeldin’s running mate on the Republican ticket.

Hochul rose up to become the state’s first woman governor last year following the resignation of her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who stepped down after being accused of sexual harassment by nearly a dozen women. Prior to becoming Cuomo’s lieutenant governor in 2015, Hochul represented part of western New York in Congress for two years and was Erie County clerk before that.

Zeldin has been in Congress since 2014 after serving in the state Senate for four years. Before winning elected office, Zeldin – an attorney – had his own legal practice on Long Island. He’s also a veteran of the Iraq War and is still a member of the Army Reserve.

Hochul ran campaign ads staking herself as a defender of abortion rights and portraying Zeldin as “extreme and dangerous” because of his ties to Trump and his vote against certifying the 2020 election results.

As Zeldin’s message appeared to be resonating in the final month, Democrats found themselves on the defensive. Hochul began speaking more about public safety, including announcing an effort to deploy more officers to New York City subways and called in Democratic heavy hitters to rally with her in the final days, including Vice President Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Zeldin was a vocal defender of Trump during his two impeachments and as a member of the U.S. House voted against certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. As he has run to lead New York, Zeldin has downplayed his ties to Trump, appearing with the former president at a closed-door campaign fundraiser but not at any public rallies, as candidates elsewhere have done.

Republicans appear to have held on to Zeldin’s seat as well. With more than half of election districts reporting, Republican Nick LaLota, an aide to the Suffolk County Legislature’s presiding officer, was leading Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) 54% to 45% in the 1st Congressional District that represents the Twin Forks, according to unofficial early vote tallies shared by the Suffolk Board of Elections.

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (D-New Suffolk), who represents the East End in Albany, was leading Democratic challenger Skyler Johnson in unofficial early returns with more than half of the results tallied. State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) additionally appeared poised to win re-election, according to the early returns.

But despite predictions of a red wave sweeping Republicans into office amid predictions of voter discontent with Democratic President Joe Biden, Democrats survived major races, as did state Assemblyman Fred. W. Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor), a longtime independent who recently became affiliated with the Democratic Party.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was elected to a fifth term, easily defeating a Republican political commentator, but will have to wait to learn whether he’ll be able to keep his title as Senate majority leader. The 71-year-old Brooklyn native defeated Joe Pinion, who hosted a program on the conservative TV channel Newsmax and faced long odds in a state where Democrats greatly outnumber Republicans.

“I will keep this fight up for as long as it takes to win,” Schumer promised the crowd.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, both Democrats, also declared victory over Republican challengers.

Party faithful gathered at the Suffolk Democratic Committee watch party in Holtsville on Tuesday night said they were never worried.

Connor Gentry, a 17-year-old Democratic campaign worker, cheered the results.

“Reproductive freedoms and democracy are the two reasons I’m so motivated to win this race,” he said. “I predicted a Kathy Hochul win and I’m incredibly happy that she’s the first elected woman governor in our great state’s history.”

Nick LaLota
Nick LaLota
Bridget Fleming
Bridget Fleming

-With Associated Press, Ethan Stark-Miller and Nicole Formisano 

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