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Hochul becomes New York’s first elected female governor; Zeldin concedes

Governor Kathy Hochul stands at a podium in front of the New York State seal. October 28, 2022.
Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul stands at a podium in front of the New York State seal. October 28, 2022.

New York has elected its first female governor, with Gov. Kathy Hochul winning a full term, defeating Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin in what was a closer race than many had expected.

Zeldin refused to concede until Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve had the honor of a lifetime, becoming the first woman to lead this state,” Hochul said in her victory speech to a cheering audience.

Hochul spoke in a restored bank building in Chinatown in lower Manhattan that featured ornate marble columns -- and a glass ceiling.

“And yes, the glass ceiling, like the one that’s above us here today, has finally been shattered in the state of New York,” Hochul said to cheers. “And you made it happen.”

Hochul fought back a stronger-than-anticipated challenge from Zeldin, who surged in the final weeks of the campaign on the issue of crime and fears about public safety.

Hochul, who took over from Andrew Cuomo when he resigned in disgrace in August 2021, is now elected in her own right as governor. Her campaign centered on protecting abortion rights, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and on gun safety measures passed after the mass shootings in the spring in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

She said her win was about protecting people’s rights, and it proves that New Yorkers refuse to go backward.

“(To) have the safety to walk our streets and take our subways without illegal guns on our streets,” Hochul said. “This will be a place where fundamental rights are protected and women can make their own decisions about their bodies.”

Hochul painted her opponent, Zeldin, a conservative who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, as a MAGA Republican who is too extreme to lead New York.

Zeldin was thought to have the best shot for a Republican upset win since George Pataki beat Mario Cuomo 28 years ago. But in the end, he could not draw enough votes to put him over the top.

Hochul did well among voters in New York City, and captured a sizeable portion of upstate, including her home county of Erie, where Zeldin was expected to have done better. Zeldin also did not win as many votes on his home turf of Long Island as expected.

But the congressman wasn't immediately ready to give up, saying in a speech Tuesday night that he wanted to wait until all the votes are fully counted.

“What you are about to see is that this race will continue to get closer and closer and closer as the night goes on,” Zeldin told his supporters.

On Wednesday afternoon, though, Zeldin issued a statement congratulating Hochul on her victory.

He noted, however, that the race was a "once in a generation campaign, with a very close margin in the bluest of blue states."

“Those controlling Albany should take note," Zeldin said. "New Yorkers of all walks of life are sick of the attacks on their wallets, their safety, their freedoms and the quality of their kids’ education and are hitting their breaking point, as proven by these results."

The Democrats in three other statewide races also won their contests.

Voters reelected Attorney General Tish James, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who was elected to a record fifth term in office.

New Yorkers also overwhelmingly approved a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act that aims to combat climate change.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network 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. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.