Gov. Kathy Hochul fought off a challenge from Republican Lee Zeldin on Tuesday, although her opponent refused to concede.
Shortly after 11 p.m., with a little more than 50% of the statewide vote counted, both NBC News and ABC News called the race for Hochul and her running mate Antonio Delgado.
Hochul then declared victory, tweeting “I’m deeply honored to be elected Governor of the State of New York.”
“Tonight, you made your voices heard loud and clear, and you made me the first woman ever elected to be governor in the state of New York,” she told supporters at her campaign watch party in Manhattan’s Chinatown. “But I’m not here to make history. I’m here to make a difference.”
She is the first woman to be elected governor in New York State, after taking over the job from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace in Aug. 2021 following sexual harassment allegations.
Hochul, who served two years in Congress representing Erie County and six years as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, focused her campaign on reproductive rights across the state after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June.
On the trail, she touted her accomplishments in the year-plus she’s been governor, including creating a task force to crack down on illegal guns and accelerating a middle-class tax cut of more than $1 billion. The governor also highlighted her five-year housing proposal to create and preserve an estimated 100,000 affordable units.
In her victory speech Tuesday, she vowed to continue her work on behalf of New Yorkers — and did not mention her competitor. “Together, we’ll put our values to work, to lift up all and leave no one behind. We’ll build a state where families can afford to raise their children, we’ll create good paying jobs.”
As the clock struck midnight, Zeldin felt he was still in the race as he spoke to supporters at his watch party in Midtown, telling them he expected results to tilt to his favor as ballots are counted.
“Enjoy the open bar, and enjoy watching the results, because what you’re about to see is that this will continue to get closer and closer and closer and closer as the night goes on,” he said.
At about 1 a.m. Wednesday, the Associated Press called the race for Hochul. With about 12,000 of 14,296 election districts reporting, she held a 53% to 46% lead.
The incumbent — who’d called herself an “underdog” the week before the election — repeatedly said during the campaign that her opponent was too far right and could jeopardize reproductive rights for women in New York.
That message seemed to resonate with Democratic-leaning voters. Daniel Meredith, 45, told THE CITY he cast his ballot for Hochul out of concern for his three young children’s future. “Lee Zeldin is probably against everything that I want my kids to live in,” the Queens resident said.
“The Lee Zeldin camp, they’re really not tolerant about gender rights and abortion and things like that. So, you know, I really want my daughter to be able to have choices with her rights.”
At their sole debate, the pair sparred over issues ranging from asylum seekers to abortion.
Despite Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 2 to 1 in New York state — and nearly 7 to 1 in New York City — some polls in the weeks leading up to election day showed Hochul had just a small lead over Zeldin. Across the state, voters unaffiliated with either party comprise nearly a quarter of registered voters, outnumbering registered Republicans.
Hochul out-raised Zeldin in recent months, bringing in more than $11.2 million to his over $6.4 million, according to the most recent state election filings — even as the Republican benefited from outside groups spending large sums on his behalf.
Zeldin’s Crime Gambit
Over the past few months, as Hochul repeatedly said her opponent would set back women’s rights, Zeldin, who opposes abortion but said that he wouldn’t be able to change state laws allowing it, focused on public safety, amplifying fears of a city and state falling into lawlessness.
While campaigning, Zeldin vowed to fire Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on his first day in office, citing what he called “soft on crime” policies. His campaign ads often used violent imagery, which some have called racist. The member of Congress from Long Island also promised to declare a “state of emergency” on crime on Jan. 1, and repeal the 2019 bail reform law.
Hours before the polls closed, at a campaign stop in Jackson Heights, Queens, Zeldin said he had support among a diverse group of voters — even in parts of the city usually seen as strongly Democratic.
“When you look at Brooklyn and Queens, while it’s viewed as blue counties, it can be a little deceiving,” he said. “My message to everybody: Don’t ever let your vote be taken for granted.”
At the campaign stop on election day, some of Zeldin’s supporters tangled with people who came out to campaign for Hochul. Mariano Laboy, 77, from Morrisania in The Bronx, and Charlie Vavruska, 55 from Maspeth, Queens, repeatedly chanted “Crime! Crime!” at Hochul supporters.
“I’m scared every day, my daughter has to ride these subways,” Vavurska said. “Everybody’s scared, it’s never been like this.”
When asked about data that shows there is less crime in the city than in previous decades, he called it “bullcrap.”
Some categories of crime, including incidents in the transit system, are up in recent years. But overall, homicides and major crimes like felony assault are significantly rarer than in the 1980s or 1990s, despite rising during the pandemic.
Zeldin’s message motivated at least some unlikely voters. Bernard, a lifelong Staten Island resident who declined to share his last name or age, told THE CITY that he hadn’t voted in a long time, but was moved this year to show up for Zeldin because of the “climate of crime.”
“This is the first time I voted in a long time because I wanted to vote for Zeldin,” Bernard said. Echoing Zeldin’s talking points on bail reform, he said, “If you’re attacked, is your attacker going to be let out? The answer is yes. It’s anarchy.”
But many voters in New York City who heard Zeldin’s message came to a different conclusion. Manhattan resident Carolyn Harris, 77, told THE CITY she voted for Hochul and said Zeldin’s extreme focus on crime was “fear-mongering — and the media is making it worse.”
“I travel around the city all the time and I’m telling you now that it’s a lot less scary than it used to be,” she said. “I was here starting back in 1976. I was here when the trains were old and full of graffiti.”
Howard Kang, who has lived in Jackson Heights, Queens for six years, said that some people in his immediate circle are alarmed about crime. “My girlfriend gets the little ridiculous Citizen app notification that hypes up crime a little too much, I think. She thinks crime has gotten worse, but I don’t think it has,” Kang told THE CITY.
“It’s way, way overblown in my opinion. There are other ways to address it other than throwing people in jail.”
No Left Turnout?
In the closing days of the election, with internal polls from both campaigns showing a tight race, Democrats made a frenzied last-minute push to get voters to the polls, with former President Bill Clinton and President Joe Biden attending separate rallies for Hochul in the weekend before Election Day.
“Our base right now, we have to energize them,” Sochie Nnaemeka, state director of the Working Families Party, told THE CITY on Saturday after a Hochul campaign stop at a farmer’s market in Sunnyside, Queens.
“We have to go and chase our voters and really demand and show that they’re part of us figuring out how to make our democracy real in the state,” Nnaemeka said. “We have to talk about the issues that matter most to them.”
Hochul kept the campaigning up through election day, meeting with residents in Woodside, Queens on Tuesday morning in her first campaign appearance alongside U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) — who said voters she spoke with were “very scared” of the possibility of Zeldin as governor.
“He indicated very clearly in his record that he is anti-choice,” Ocasio-Cortez told THE CITY. “He didn’t believe in our democracy and really worked to overturn our election in 2020. People are very alarmed that there’s any kind of prospect that he can become governor, I think that’s a very motivating factor.”
Early Tuesday at a poll site in Soundview, The Bronx, a poll coordinator told THE CITY that turnout was good so far. Among the voters there was Roz Nixon, an arts event planner focusing on jazz and other music genres.
“I voted for the person I had breakfast with this morning — Kathy Hochul,” she told THE CITY. She met Hochul hours earlier while the governor canvassed on 86th Street in Manhattan on Tuesday morning.
A spokesperson for Hochul said she had breakfast at two diners on the Upper East Side, chatting with several New Yorkers.
Nixon said it’s important for Democrats to show loyalty at the polls and cited reducing crime and increasing arts in education as major priorities.
“We need to make our Democratic House strong and so we need to just vote right down the line, show some loyalty,” she said. “Because that’s what Republicans did in 2016. Some of those people didn’t believe in what they were doing but they were showing loyalty to their party. And you see what happened.”
The Abortion Factor
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, Hochul attempted to paint Zeldin as a far-right extremist who would jeopardize reproductive rights for women in New York.
That message seemed to resonate with some Democratic-leaning voters, even as Zeldin insisted that, despite his personal views, he wouldn’t be able to change New York’s laws protecting the legal right to an abortion.
But not all New York voters agreed. Moe, 65, a voter in Chelsea who works for the federal government, told THE CITY, “I’m not too concerned about that. I’m Catholic. I believe in pro-life. You have, I mean, depending on the situation, incest or rape, possibly. But even still, as a Christian, you know there’s alternatives,” she said.
Asked to compare Hochul to Mayor Eric Adams, Moe said, “Adams still has time to prove himself. Hochul had her time and didn’t.”
Other potential voters in New York City, where Hochul needed to rack up large margins in order to offset Zeldin’s upstate advantage, simply stayed home. Shanelle Pierce, 31, a native Manhattanite who moved to Coney Island nine months ago, didn’t vote this cycle, citing concerns about crime and inflation.
“I wanted to [vote] but I don’t have faith anymore,” she told THE CITY on an F train leaving the Stillwell Avenue terminal in Brooklyn. “I voted for Biden. I went out of my way to vote for the other ones. Nothing really changed.”
“The price of a loaf of bread is almost $5. It’s a lot. A pack of chicken is $20, so it’s a lot.”
What It Means for NYC
Hochul has generally had a good relationship with Mayor Eric Adams — a departure from the years of feuding between their predecessors, ousted Gov. Cuomo and former Mayor Bill de Blasio. The two frequently sparred, and during the COVID-19 pandemic they often made seemingly uncoordinated statements at competing news events.
Meanwhile, Adams and Hochul have held joint press conferences on subway safety and other city issues.
But Zeldin and Adams both agree on changes to the bail reform law, although the mayor had conspicuously stopped mentioning this in the weeks leading up to the election.
Transit insiders also feared what a Zeldin win could mean for capital projects and the operating budget of the MTA, a state agency that is the lifeblood of the city.
MTA Chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber noted in September that Zeldin voted against the federal infrastructure bill, which is partially funding large-scale transit projects like the revitalized Penn Station.
“That is a concern to us … who are trying to rebuild the MTA and the transit system,” Lieber said at the time.
Zeldin has also spoken out against congestion pricing, which is designed to raise $15 billion for mass transit capital improvements like signal upgrades and new trains and buses. The pricing will tolling drivers coming into parts of Manhattan.
All four ballot proposals, which were listed on the back of voting forms, passed. Three citywide proposals include a mandate to create a “statement of values” for the government, form a racial equity office, and define how the cost of living is calculated. A statewide proposal would boost spending in Albany on future environment-related projects.
Familiar Faces in Congress
Some high-profile Democrats in Congress easily kept their seats in New York, including Sen. Chuck Schumer — who is at risk of losing his majority leader position depending on how national races go — and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Two new members of Congress will head to Washington this year from the city delegation.
One is Dan Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, who easily won Manhattan’s new 10th Congressional District in a bruising summer primary among Democrats.
The other is the winner of the 3rd Congressional District, which is mostly in Nassau County, with a sliver of Queens. Democrat Robert Zimmerman held a slight lead over Republican George Santos late Tuesday in that race to take over Rep. Tom Suozzi’s seat.
Malliotakis Takes Round 2 Against Rose
U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn) won a second term in Congress with about 62% of the vote as of Tuesday night, defeating former Rep. Max Rose in a rematch of their 2020 contest.
Malliotakis, a Trump-backed incumbent, won New York’s 11th Congressional District by around 24 points, compared to 6.3 points in 2020, when she first went up against Rose, who had flipped the seat for Democrats in 2018.
“I hope we see victories like ours all across the country,” Malliotakis told supporters at her victory party in Rosebank, Staten Island. “I want to thank you all for your dedication, for your support, for coming out, day after day to volunteer because you believed in this movement, you believe that America is a wonderful country and that we’ve just been on the wrong track for the last two years.”
Rose, speaking to supporters from LiGreci’s Staaten in West Brighton, conceded fairly early Tuesday night.
“The truth is that believing in and fighting for what America can be, and must be, is not for the faint of heart,” he said. “Yeah — and neither is being a Staten Island Democrat ”
Economic issues and crime were the top two concerns for voters in NY-11, according to the most recent poll, which was conducted in late September by Spectrum News/Siena College. Malliotakis, who garnered endorsements from several NYPD unions, made crime a key issue throughout her campaign and painted Rose as soft on crime and an enemy of the NYPD.
“Max Rose even marched with the ‘Defund the Police’ protesters, an insult to every officer and a gift to every violent criminal” she said in a recent ad, accusing Rose of having a “pro-crime agenda.”
She also criticized Mayor Eric Adams for opening up the city to asylum seekers and called on the Biden administration to secure the country’s borders.
Despite Losses, Dems Hold Albany Grip
In the state legislature, the balance of power appears to have remained largely the same after Tuesday’s contests, with Democrats maintaining their veto-proof supermajority in the Assembly and a sizable majority in the State Senate.
But the red wave anticipated by many polls across the county did hit New York, especially in Southern Brooklyn too, where Jewish, Eastern European and other white voters came out in droves for Zeldin and relatively obscure low-ballot candidates.
In Sheepshead Bay, Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat who has served in the Assembly since 2000, was trounced by Michael Novakhov, the owner of a Russian language radio station who accused the incumbent of helping foment a “crime wave.”
Further west in a district that stretches from Coney Island to Bay Ridge, Democratic incumbent Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus was in danger of losing to GOP candidate Alec Brook-Krasny, a former Democrat most famous for beating charges of helping a doctor run a multi-million dollar pill mill.
At a watch party at a restaurant on Surf Avenue by the boardwalk, Frontus, the Haitian-American former community organizer did not concede but thanked her supporters for giving it their best shot.
Frontus campaigned with the support of several local Democratic clubs, but little on-the-ground backing from the Brooklyn Democratic Party, which focused its efforts last week on a gala to fundraise for its housekeeping fund, rather than for embattled party candidates in purple districts.
Ari Kagan, a City Council member who has clashed with Frontus in the past but showed up to her watch party, said state Democrats were to blame too.
“Why didn’t you come down to Southern Brooklyn?” Kagan told the crowd in reference to Hochul. “This is a lesson. Never take anybody for granted.”