Democrats ignore crime at their peril — as well as New York’s

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The unlikely underperformance of several Democratic congressional candidates in deep-blue New York in November cost the party control of the US House of Representatives.

That’s not the opinion of conservative analysts or partisan ideologues. Rather, it’s the position of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who recently blamed Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York Democrats for the midterm loss.

Republican victories in a handful of critical New York races — mostly in moderate suburban areas — did indeed propel the GOP to a House majority, including a striking upset that saw Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney unseated.

Hochul won reelection by fewer than six points against a Trumpian Republican, Lee Zeldin, in the state’s closest gubernatorial contest in decades. Despite Democrats’ statewide registration advantage of 3.6 million voters, Hochul won just 325,395 more votes than Zeldin out of the 5.7 million cast.

Pelosi pinpoints Hochul’s and Democrats’ failure to address one topic in particular — public safety — as the root cause of this red ripple in a solidly blue state.

“[Crime] is an issue that had to be dealt with early on, not 10 days before the election,” Pelosi told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. “The governor didn’t realize soon enough where the trouble was.”


Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin and other New York Republicans outperformed expectations on Election Day because they focused on surging crime in the state.
Former GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin and other New York Republicans outperformed expectations on Election Day because they focused on surging crime in the state.
Matthew McDermott

Pelosi is spot on. Crime was one of New York voters’ top issues, especially for Zeldin backers, per post-election polling. Zeldin and other Republicans worked systematically and successfully to exploit voters’ concerns, tying the uptick in crime to Democrats’ irresponsible criminal-justice policies.

Democratic pols failed to recognize the issue’s potency and largely neglected it throughout the campaign, notwithstanding Hochul’s 11th-hour pivot to public safety, which likely didn’t move the needle.

Regrettably, there’s no indication New York Democrats have learned from their miscalculation. Neither Hochul nor Albany leaders have made any meaningful effort to advance major criminal-justice and policing reforms; thus, New York’s criminal-justice system remains bankrupt.

Several laws passed in 2019, including discovery and “speedy trial” rules in the larger bail-reform package, are correlated with an increase in crime and a decline in arrests. A new Manhattan Institute study, The Post revealed, found these laws impose enormous clerical burdens on prosecutors, which have ultimately allowed many dangerous criminals to go free.

In New York City, the case-dismissal rate rose from 44% in 2019 to 69% by mid-October 2021. For misdemeanor cases, the uptick was even more considerable, from 49% to 82%.

The Post also reports felony arrests dropped by 14% between 2019 and 2021, while shootings rose by 102% and murders by more than 51%.

This evidence is compelling — yet Democrats remain intransigent on the issue.


NYPD at the scene of a subway shooting in Manhattan on January 28, 2023.
NYPD at the scene of a subway shooting in Manhattan on January 28, 2023.
Christopher Sadowski

While Hochul’s recent announcement her administration intends to triple state funding for local prosecutors and expand recruitment for police-academy candidates is ostensibly a step in the right direction, it’s a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.

While 2023 is not a big election year, there are local races where Republicans can be anticipated to make pickups — including a handful of City Council contests in the outer boroughs — due in large part to voters’ disillusionment with Democrats’ crime and policing positions.

Absent New York Democrats embarking on a broad course-correction before 2024 — which should involve reversing their disastrous 2019 reforms — the party will be at risk of a wholesale rebellion even greater than what it faced last year.

For the sake of our city and state, and for the party we remain proud members of, New York Democrats and the party as a whole need to embrace rational and reasonable enforcement reforms:

First, repeal cashless-bail laws. These are indefensible statutes that have caused extraordinary actual harm to local communities as well as political harm to the Democratic Party.

Second, revisit discovery and “speedy trial” laws. These policies have allowed offenders to return to the streets without facing any real penalties for the crimes they commit.

Third, reverse Raise the Age, which bars charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Since it took effect in 2019, there’s been a massive 258% hike in the number of minor shooters. The law’s absurdity was illustrated this month with the immediate release of three under-18 teens who brutally assaulted Fox News meteorologist Adam Klotz.

Finally, police budgets need to be increased, not defunded, to bolster officer-training programs and ensure local police departments have a presence where they are needed. At the same time, prominent Democrats must explicitly reject the “Defund the Police” movement and anti-criminal-justice initiatives that progressives continue to advocate in New York and elsewhere.

This approach is necessary for Democrats to win back the House and have a fighting chance of holding onto their Senate majority in 2024 and to keep New York blue.

Anything less will lead to the continuance of rampant crime as well as disillusionment with the Democratic Party and could turn New York’s 2020 red ripple into a 2024 red wave.

Douglas Schoen was a senior adviser to Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign, a White House adviser (1994-2000) and an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2000 US Senate campaign. Andrew Stein, a Democrat, served as New York City Council president, 1986-94.

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