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Zeldin visits pizza shop in a neighborhood where crime is up, calls for change

Zeldin pizza.png
Karen DeWitt
Long Island Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, takes a bite of the chicken parm pizza at Paesan's Pizza, his favorite when he was a student at the State University of New York at Albany. Owner Frank Scavio is on the left.

The Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, visited his favorite pizza shop near the State Capitol to talk about rising crime in the area. The shop’s owner said the rising crime rate in the neighborhood may force him to close the location.

Frank Scavio and his family-run Paesan’s Pizza, a popular spot just blocks from the State Capitol and governor’s mansion. Scavio, a first generation Italian immigrant, stood in the upstairs of a one room apartment where he lived, along with five other family members, when they began the business three decades ago. Now he said he’s worried about how to stay open.

“I just want to sell pizzas,” Savio said.

“In 30 years, I’d never think I’d have all these people standing here asking me about how to save my business,” Savio said, gesturing to the group of candidates, aides and reporters gathered in the small space. “Not in a million years.”

The pizza shop is a favorite of present and former college students who live in the area, including GOP candidate for governor Lee Zeldin, who attended the State University at Albany and Albany Law School.

“I can neither confirm nor deny that I was one of those 4 a.m. customers here,” Zeldin joked.

Zeldin, now a Congressman representing parts of Long Island, came for a slice of his favorite chicken parmesan pizza, and to talk about concerns over crime.

Scavio said he no longer stays open late. And since the pandemic began, students in the neighborhood left during the COVID lock downs, crime has gone up. He now shuts his doors at 8 p.m., fearing for the safety of his staff.

“You name it, murder, shootings, everything,” he said. “It’s scary.”

Zeldin said if he’s elected governor, on January 1 he plans to declare a crime state of emergency and issue executive orders rescinding all of the recent criminal justice reforms approved by democratic governors and the democratic-led state Legislature. Those include bail reform which ended most forms of cash bail, Raise the Age, which no longer treats 16 and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system, and laws that make it easier for prison inmates to become eligible for parole.

“The laws on day one that we are talking about here are going to be suspended,” said Zeldin, who added the suspension would last 30 days.

He said he would then work with the Legislature to change the laws.

Zeldin said his opponent, Governor Kathy Hochul, has not done enough to fight crime.

Hochul in April convinced the Legislature to amend the state’s bail laws to make more crimes eligible for bail and to give judges more discretion to hold defendants pre trials.

In a statement, Hochul's campaign manager Jerrel Harvey said Zeldin has “no credible plan on public safety,” or to address gun violence and he adds the congressman’s proposal for the executive orders shows he doesn’t understand “the basics of governing or democracy.”

Scavio, the pizza owner, when asked by reporters, could not say whether the recent bail reform laws and other criminal justice law changes have contributed to the increasing incidences of crime in his neighborhood, though he points out that Albany County’s District Attorney David Soares, a liberal Democrat, has cited the changes as contributing to increased crime. And he said he’s willing to work with politicians from both parties to come up with a solution, saying he’s met successfully with Albany’s Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehan, and its police chief.

“We’re trying to do right. This is a problem that just keeps on growing, and it’s not just in Albany. It’s across the state and it’s across the country,” he said. “The community needs to step up and really contribute, because this is not going to be solved by one person.”

He said he and other business owners are also struggling with inflation, and staffing shortages, and they are asking for help from elected leaders. And they don’t care what party they belong to.

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.