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GOP gubernatorial candidates jockey in bid to end New York losing streak

 Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani debate on Spectrum.
Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani debate on Spectrum.

With early voting underway ahead of New York’s primary Tuesday, four GOP candidates for governor have been debating with hopes of winning Republicans’ first statewide election since 2002.

Businessman Harry Wilson, the 2010 nominee for state comptroller, former Trump aide Andrew Giuliani, 2014 gubernatorial nominee and former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin have been drawing contrasts for months, hoping to win the nomination for November’s general election.

Zeldin carries the Republican Party’s endorsement, but polls have shown the race within striking distance for his opponents.

They have tried to label him a go-along, get-along creature of the Capitol from his time in the state Senate a decade ago.

In a recent Spectrum News debate,they were asked whether the COVID vaccine should be added to the list of mandatory vaccinations for public school children after the shots were approved for children under 5.

Astorino came out strongly against requiring the idea, but supports requiring other vaccinations.

“Yes, but not something like COVID. COVID we know as the CDC has said, does not stop the spread at all, we know that. Neither do those masks. We know that,” Astorino said.

The CDC says, like all vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine is not 100 percent effective at preventing infections.

Wilson distinguished between the COVID vaccine and MMR vaccines, and Zeldin said you can’t compare the COVID shot to others.

“The definition of vaccine has changed. I used to remember that if you get a vaccine, that means you have immunity to what they’re giving you that shot for, but all of a sudden, suddenly with the COVID vaccine, the definition changes because even if you get it, you can still contract COVID.”

Unvaccinated Giuliani appeared virtually for a second time during debate season. He said more data is needed before mandating the shot for toddlers.

“I am not a biologist, nor am I an epidemiologist, but I can tell with all of the studies I’ve read through this, I would want to give far more data than I’m seeing before recommending this vaccination.”

The four hopefuls do agree on some things: they said Governor Kathy Hochul, the Democratic frontrunner, deserves blame for her years in Andrew Cuomo’s administration, and said one-party rule is bad for Albany and the state. They fault Hochul for the high cost of living and New York’s lagging population.

On another hot topic, the candidates were asked if they believe former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Their answers mixed conspiracy theory with outright falsehoods.

Zeldin claimed there is no way to know the answer:

“It’s something that we’ll never for sure know the exact consequence of in Pennsylvania, allowing one county to have different rules than another county, or not allowing the close observation of the opening of ballots,” he said.

Astorino also refused to answer the question when pushed:

“The problem was, every state, every Republican governor, every Republican legislature, every state, all 50, sent in their certified results,” he said. “So there really wasn’t anything they could do other than accept those results. Now, we had major problems.”

Giuliani, son of former New York City Mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, claimed without evidence that Trump did win.

“I believe that President Trump was reelected and I think unfortunately we’ve seen one of the greatest crimes in American history committed against our country,” he said.

Wilson broke from his Republican colleagues.

“I believe that Joe Biden was the duly elected president of the United States. I believe that we Republicans need to move on and focus on the problems that really hurt working families today.”

Giuliani said if elected, he would make public safety a top priority and would end any COVID restrictions. Wilson pointed to lowering taxes, promising a 20% property and income tax cut. Astorino said on day one, he would make sure nurses and healthcare workers who lost their jobs rather than receive a COVID vaccine are rehired. And Zeldin said he would prioritize issues like voter ID, allowing hydrofracking and investigating Cuomo’s handling of the pandemic.

Governor George Pataki’s third-term victory in 2002 was the last Republican win in a statewide election in New York.
Copyright 2022 WAMC Northeast Public Radio. To see more, visit WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.