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NY GOP chooses Zeldin, but he faces primary challenges

Alison Esposito, Lee Zeldin
John Minchillo
Associated Press
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, third from left, raises his fist with his lieutenant governor pick Alison Esposito, fourth from left, after speaking to delegates and assembled party officials at the 2022 NYGOP Convention, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Garden City, N.Y. Republicans from across New York met to choose their gubernatorial nominee to run against Gov. Kathy Hochul in November. The GOP nominated Zeldin, of Long Island, as the party's designee for this year's gubernatorial race.

New York Republicans met Tuesday to nominate Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin as their candidate for governor.

Zeldin won 85% of the delegates' vote, but he will face a primary challenge from other candidates, including Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani, who upstaged the convention when he brought his father, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with him.

Delegates chose Zeldin to face Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is seeking election to the post she filled when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned after sexual harassment allegations.

Zeldin told the delegates that he is on a “rescue mission” to save New York state.

“All New Yorkers are hitting their breaking point right now and they are desperate for us to be successful in this efforts to restore balance in Albany,” Zeldin said, “to fire Kathy Hochul and Brian Benjamin.”

Zeldin said as governor he’d undo recent changes to the state’s bail laws that he claims are connected to the state’s rising crime rates. Many Republican candidates have tried to link recent bail reform measures to crime rates that have increased nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said he’d fight for parents’ rights to steer education policies that affect their children.

But he first faces primary challenges.

Wilson, an independent businessman, entered the race a few weeks ago and has already begun an aggressive advertising campaign. Wilson said he decided to enter the race because he’s concerned that the state’s policies will adversely affect his children.

“I cannot shake the dark fear that their present is better than their future, and I refuse to accept that,” Wilson said. “I will not sit idly by while career politicians destroy our state.”

Wilson received some support from delegates, but not enough to win an automatic place on the ballot. He will now petition for the right to be included. Wilson said he’ll spend millions of dollars of his own personal wealth on the campaign.

Giuliani will also be collecting signatures to get on the primary ballot.

His father, Rudy Giuliani, an adviser to former President Donald Trump and former New York City mayor, accompanied his son. He was the second person to sign the petition.

Giuliani said his son “has what it takes” to become governor, and he condemned GOP leaders for not giving his son 25% of the delegates’ votes to avoid the petitioning process, a courtesy often extended to challengers in the past.

“I don’t think a professional politician can beat her,” Giuliani said, referring to Hochul. “What they are doing with this dictated convention is very damaging.”

He said the convention was stifling the popular vote and called its members "the elite."

The Giulianis said they met with Trump as recently as last week but would not speculate on whether the former president might endorse Andrew Giuliani’s candidacy, saying they are OK with him being “neutral.”

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014, will also be petitioning to be on the primary ballot.

“I stand before you today as the most viable general election candidate,” Astorino said. “Someone who can rally the base while also appealing to Democrats and independents. No one else can do that.”

Astorino argues that he can help win in bluer suburbs like his home county.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.