Near the end of his press conference Tuesday, GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin suggested to a reporter a theme for a “post mortem” article the day after the November election. He will have won, Zeldin predicted, because he talked about crime, taxes, education and things voters care about while Gov. Hochul talked about Donald Trump, or as he put it, “Orange Man Bad.”
Even allowing for self-interest, Zeldin is onto something important. He’s running an intense, issue-focused campaign; Hochul is trying to run out the clock.
The governor is employing a version of the Rose Garden strategy often used by incumbent presidents. In her case, Hochul apparently assumes that incumbency, combined with Democrats’ huge enrollment advantage, will be enough.
And so her public appearances are mostly ribbon cuttings and other ceremonial events where she acts as if she’s too busy doing the job to bother with actual campaigning.
Meanwhile, she has refused to commit to any debates and uses her fundraising windfall to buy TV ads that link Zeldin to Trump. If she starts spouting “MAGA, MAGA, MAGA” in a lurid red light, you’ll know she’s gone full Joe Biden.
In one respect, she’s already gone beyond the president by declaring that Trump, Zeldin and other Republicans should “just jump on a bus and head down to Florida where you belong” because “you are not New Yorkers.”
If, on the other hand, Hochul plans to do anything about crime, the economy or the already bad and declining school system, she’s keeping it a secret.
I believe she’s committing a huge mistake and making it possible for a Republican to win a statewide race for the first time in 20 years. In fact, I’ve believed all along Zeldin has a real chance to win if he can raise enough money to be competitive in the ad wars, and Hochul’s non-campaign campaign is bolstering his chances.
New Yorkers — the ones who haven’t already left for Florida — are in a foul mood. They have more than the usual reasons for bellyaching and they desperately want their government to fix what’s broken.
One example popped up the other day with a report that the MTA calculates it loses $500 million a year because of fare-beating. That amounts to about 180 million rides that are free instead of $2.75 each, according to the Daily News.
Free, of course, to those who jump or game turnstiles or board buses at the back. An MTA report estimated 12.5% of subway riders and 29% of bus riders cheat the system that way.
Those are phenomenal numbers, unlike anything ever recorded, and the cheating is contagious because, proving the “broken windows” theory, nobody is stopping it. Yet, although Hochul controls the MTA board, I’ve never heard her denounce the outrageous rip-off or call for more police enforcement.
A governor who understands the frustration of honest, paying riders would find the situation intolerable and demand it be addressed. That’s not the governor we have.
Instead, Hochul is pushing for expensive congestion pricing, which is just another tax to subsidize mass transit. That way, motorists and truck drivers will cover the epidemic of fare beating, which will continue unabated because the lost money will no longer be an issue.
See, problem solved. All you need to do is soak the suckers even more.
That’s the Albany way and situations like fare-beating reveal the systemic rot driving the state’s decline. Violent crime is out of control, taxes continue to rise, the state still has not recovered all the jobs it lost during the pandemic and the city’s unemployment rate stands at 6.1%, against 3.7% nationally.
All these issues and others factor into the popularity of remote work. Many people who got used to working from home during the pandemic cite crime, difficult commutes and high costs as reasons why they don’t want to return full time to an office in the city.
That, too, is a threat to Gotham’s prosperity.
Hochul hardly ever talks about any of these things. As I’ve noted, she promises potential donors she will do more after she’s elected, but that’s never going to happen.
If she can get elected doing nothing, there’s no incentive to tackle the hard problems. If she won’t exert maximum effort now, she never will.
Behind Zeldin’s surge
The widespread sense that New York is on automatic pilot to a rendezvous with disaster largely explains the latest poll showing Zeldin rapidly closing the gap with Hochul.
The survey, conducted by the Trafalgar Group, found Hochul with just a 4-percentage-point lead over the Long Island congressman. Previous polls found her ahead by anywhere from 14 to 24 points.
The poll of 1,091 likely voters put Hochul at 47.8% and Zeldin at 43.4%.
In a phone interview after the press conference, I asked Zeldin what he made of the poll. He noted that Trafalgar is widely respected and said that “I’ve always felt that we would be in a close race at this point. This is a good place to be.”
He talks about the strong reception he gets at big events, including the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn and Dominican Day parades in The Bronx and Manhattan.
“Something is happening,” he said. “Hochul has an enthusiasm gap. People just aren’t that enthusiastic about her.”
Again, he mentions crime and the economy. He says they were the top two issues when he announced his candidacy 17 months ago, with 75% of voters citing one or the other, consistently the top two issues. And that remains the case today.
Ultimately, the election will turn on whether enough New Yorkers are fed up enough to vote for a change of leadership. The national political mood will also play a role, and if something close to a red wave materializes, don’t be shocked if Zeldin is the next governor.
Amending media hypocrispy
Reader Max Gomez spots a contradiction in Washington and the media. He writes: “At every turn when Trump was president there was always a chorus calling to impeach him or remove him by activating the 25th Amendment.
“So my question is, why isn’t there the same approach with Biden given all the bad things he’s done?”
Schools are back and confronting huge learning losses
“Confronting” is way too optimistic. If history is any guide, schools will simply lower standards further and declare victory even as students learn less and less.
Reader Brian Sullivan has his own idea about the president, writing: “Joe Biden is the original ‘lying dog-faced pony soldier!’ ”