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Crime and abortion dominate NY governor's race

GOP candidate for Gov. Lee Zeldin and others protest the state's parole laws at a campaign stop Wednesday in White Plains, and Gov. Kathy Hochul announces a second round of funding for abortion providers.
Screenshot from Lee Zeldin's facebook page and Gov. Hochul's flickr page
GOP candidate for Gov. Lee Zeldin and others protest the state's parole laws at a campaign stop Wednesday in White Plains, and Gov. Kathy Hochul announces a second round of funding for abortion providers.

The two candidates for governor in New York are doubling down on their priority issues in the race. Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking election 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 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 Rose v. Wade, which the court did in the Dobbs decision, issued in late June.

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, says 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 safe and legal abortion,” Hochul said to applause. “It’s happening here in our state.”

Hochul says 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 says she believes she has a “moral responsibility” to stand up for women’s rights, which she says 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 says 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 says 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.

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 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.