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Crime and abortion dominate New York governor's race

Abortion-rights activists carry flags as they gather to participate in the Queer Liberation march in New York City earlier this week.
Kena Betancur
AFP via Getty Images
Abortion-rights activists carry flags as they gather to participate in the Queer Liberation march in New York City earlier this week.

The two candidates for governor in New York are doubling down on their priority issues in the race. Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking reelection to the post, highlighted abortion rights Wednesday, while Republican candidate and Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, focused on fighting crime.

Hochul used the power of her office to promote abortion rights, announcing a new round of funding for abortion care providers. It’s part of a $25 million dollar program that she created in May. At that time, the governor was anticipating that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade, which the court did in the Dobbs decision, issued in late June.

Don Pollard
Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul announces $13.4 million awarded in the second round of the Abortion Provider Support Fund to 37 providers, covering 64 clinical sites to further expand access to abortion services in New York.

The money goes to 37 organizations, including hospitals and clinics around the state, and will be distributed to 64 locations.

Hochul, speaking to supporters of abortion rights in New York City, said it once again illustrates her steadfast commitment to protecting abortion rights.

“This is the next stop on the journey to let the nation know that this is the state of New York, and we will protect a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion,” Hochul said to applause. “It’s happening here in our state.”

Hochul said she is continuing to distribute an additional $10 million to step up security at abortion clinics, to protect against potential “vigilantism.”

The event was held at the Judson Memorial Church, a Christian house of worship that emphasizes social justice causes. Hochul said she believes she has a “moral responsibility” to stand up for women’s rights, which she said are being threatened by strict abortion bans in other states and by a proposed federal law to strictly limit abortions.

“God is out there on our side,” Hochul said. “As we make sure that women continue to have the rights that are God-given rights.”

Hochul’s opponent in the race, Republican Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin, is opposed to abortion, though he’s said he would not interfere with the will of the people of New York, where the majority support abortion rights.

Zeldin on Wednesday was highlighting reforms that he’d make to the criminal justice system to combat the rise in the crime rate.

He joined other Republican candidates and elected officials in Westchester to object to the state parole board’s decision to release Anthony Blanks from prison.

Blanks was convicted of first-degree murder and criminal possession of a weapon in the 1976 killing of Larchmont Police Officer Arthur Dematte. Blanks could be released on parole as early as next week.

Zeldin said if he’s elected governor, he would appoint parole board members who take the views of crime victims and their families more heavily into consideration, and who are more supportive of law enforcement.

“I look forward to utilizing the power to nominate people who aren’t going to be releasing all these cop killers,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin adds if he’s governor, he’d try to change the laws to allow victims and their families to appeal decisions by the parole board.

Zeldin wants to roll back the state’s bail reform laws, which were approved by a Democratic governor and Legislature that ended many forms of cash bail. He cites the recent incident near Buffalo where Keaira Bennefield was shot and killed, allegedly by her husband, in front of their three children. The incident came one day after Adam Bennefield appeared in Cheektowaga Town Court on an assault charge for allegedly striking his wife and was released on his own recognizance. The crime is not bail-eligible.

“We are also here today to demand reform, to demand change, to insist that the status quo is not okay,” Zeldin told supporters.

Data on whether the bail reform laws have led to more crime is so far inconclusive. Democrats say disruptions caused by the pandemic are the reason behind the increase in violent acts.

Columbus Day Parade
Mary Altaffer
Republican candidate for New York Governor Congressman Lee Zeldin, right, stands with his daughters Arianna, center, and Mikayla, left, as he speaks to reporters before marching in the annual Columbus Day Parade, Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, in New York.

The congressman’s own front yard was the site of a drive-by shooting on Sunday, where two teens were shot and injured. Zeldin’s two 16-year-old daughters were home alone at the time. No one in the family was harmed, and police believe the incident is unrelated to Zeldin’s role as a candidate or a federal elected official.

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.