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Before her first State of the State, gubernatorial opponents and GOP target Hochul

New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters at a COVID-19 vaccination site at the Aqueduct Race Track, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in the Queens borough of New York.
Mary Altaffer
Associated Press
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) called on New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Tuesday to refocus her efforts on public safety. An analysis by Newsday last week showed the homicide rate in New York City has increased by nearly 50% and shootings nearly doubled in 2020.

Suozzi, who is primarying Hochul for the Democratic nomination for governor in June, said he is concerned New York will become “the crime capital of the country.”

“I think we have a very serious problem in our state,” Suozzi said. “I don’t think it’s been talked about enough, and I’m going to be talking about it a lot more throughout this campaign and I hope that the governor will do the same because we’ve got some very serious things going on.”

He said crime is not just a problem for New York City. There were 79 murders in Rochester in 2021, which is an increase of up 67% over the year prior and more than double than five years ago. Buffalo saw 65 homicides in 2020, breaking recent records. Gun violence in Albany increased 71% and 39% in Nassau County — in Suozzi’s hometown on Long Island — between 2019 to 2020, he said.

Suozzi faults Hochul for not having a clear plan to deal with the issue.

“The preeminent job of government is public safety and it's shocking to me that the governor has been in office for as long as she has and she hasn’t made this a priority at all, so I’m making it a priority,” said Suozzi.

Suozzi said as governor he would focus on walking back reforms that give judges more authority to remand offenders when they’re arrested, shifting law enforcement to a community policing model, and child safety net programs in schools.

A few of the programs, including giving police departments additional resources and technology, are included in the gun violence emergency that former Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last year, which Hochul expanded in November. Her administration provided an additional $30 million on top of the state’s initial promise.

Suozzi’s call to action comes a day before Hochul gives her first State of the State address as governor.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is also running for governor, criticized Hochul last week alongside Republican leaders from across the state on her response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and surge in cases due to the Omicron variant.

“For Governor Kathy Hochul, her administration, we really need to light a fire under her and under all of them because this has been utter incompetence,” said Zeldin, who believes more attention should be placed on widespread testing.

New York plans to distribute over 37 million COVID-19 test kits statewide, particularly to school districts returning after the holiday break. In the New Year, Governor Kathy Hochul continues to advocate for the “test to stay” program, where schools are supplied with test kits that children can take home.

“Put them in the backpack if someone tests positive in their class, let the parents test them the next morning and send them back if it's negative, test them again. In a few days, we'll make sure everyone has those protocols,” Hochul said.

New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support the “test to stay” policy for students implemented by New York, Connecticut and other states. The policy allows children who are exposed to COVID-19 to stay in class if they test negative repeatedly, instead of being quarantined at home.

Hochul said she wants schools to use the policy to make sure children can get back into school five days a week.

More criticism fell on Hochul from Republicans and other Democratic candidates days before her address. Democrat Jumaane Williams, who serves as New York City’s public advocate, didn’t mention her by name, but complained on Twitter that many municipalities statewide are back to school from holidays “fully open with no testing requirements and with only the availability to test a fraction of students.”

“This is compounded, unnecessary risk,” he said.

Rob Astorino, a former two-time Westchester County executive and gubernatorial candidate, faulted Hochul and the state’s decision to cancel January’s Regent exams, as well as the decision by several schools to cancel in-person classroom instruction.

Astorino blamed Hochul for an ineffective COVID-19 policy over the past two years while she was lieutenant governor. He said it unfairly affected children across the state. He wants the state to get “back to normal” amid a record high coronavirus outbreak.

“Governor Hochul is dragging New York backwards with her subjective and unscientific mandates,” Astorino said.

Clare is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.
A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.