Hochul and Zeldin face off in governor’s debate

The two candidates for New York governor sparred over abortion rights and crime during a televised debate ahead of the November general election.


Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin participate in the New York governor’s debate on NY1. (Courtesy of AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Rep. Lee Zeldin, the candidates for New York governor, stuck to their campaign talking points in the first and only gubernatorial debate on Tuesday, Oct. 25. The candidates clashed over crime, economic revitalization, abortion, the 2020 election and COVID-19. 

Despite New York being considered a Democratic stronghold, polls indicate that the race is tightening, with Democrat Hochul polling at almost exactly 50%. The incumbent’s crime policies — which Republican candidate Zeldin considers too lenient — have hurt her campaign.

Hochul replaced disgraced Gov. Andrew Cuomo following his resignation in August 2021. Less than three weeks before the Nov. 8 general election, Hochul announced that more police officers would be added to New York subway stations in an effort to reduce crime. In September, she announced that local law enforcement agencies would receive an additional $50 million in state funding.

Zeldin, who worked closely with former President Donald Trump during his time in office, has served as the representative of New York’s 1st District since 2015. In his campaign, he has prioritized the economy, crime and reducing taxes. His platform leaves several other issues unaddressed, including housing, healthcare and climate change. 

The two faced off at Pace University in a debate moderated and streamed live by NY1.


The candidates began the debate by answering questions about crime, which Zeldin has made a central issue in his campaign. He repeatedly brought the issue up in other unrelated sections of the debate, and promised to remove Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who Zeldin accused of failing to enforce laws.

Most of the discussion centered on cashless bail and gun control. Hochul defended both, while Zeldin attacked bail reforms for contributing to increasing crime rates. 

“I don’t think that if you’re a Mexican cartel drug smuggler busted with $1.2 million worth of crystal meth that you should just be instantly released on cashless bail,” Zeldin said. “We need to make our streets safe again.” 

Zeldin also attacked Hochul’s campaign focus on gun crime, accusing her of ignoring other violent crimes, including stabbings and subway riders being pushed onto tracks. Hochul’s administration worked to restrict concealed carry in locations deemed sensitive, and her rhetoric in the debate was focused on the importance of gun control in reducing crime, with repeated references to a recent school shooting in St. Louis.


The candidates have opposing views on abortion, which has become a critical issue following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade — a 1973 decision that protected the right to the procedure — in June. Hochul pointed to Zeldin’s voting record on abortion — most recently, he voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would federally protect abortion rights. 

“There are very few people in Congress who have a more pro-life record,” Hochul said. “You can’t run from your record.”

Hochul also pointed to Zeldin’s support of a bill defining life as beginning at conception. Zeldin skirted the issue, saying that the Dobbs case did not affect New Yorkers due to previous legislation codifying abortion into law. He also discussed government funding of Planned Parenthood, a national organization that provides low-cost obstetric and gynecological care.

“I’ve actually heard from a number of people who consider themselves to be pro-choice, who are not happy hearing that their tax dollars are being used to fund abortions many states away,” Zeldin said. ”The will of the people that I’ve heard from — they’re not happy.”

2020 presidential election

Hochul cited Zeldin’s close ties to Trump and accused him of being a part of a conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Zeldin was one of 147 House Republicans who voted against certifying the results, and blamed “rogue state actors” for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“He helped [Trump] on Jan. 6 by supporting it with an overturning of an election,” Hochul said. “He sent text messages trying to orchestrate the big lie.”

When asked by moderators, Zeldin said he would abide by the results of the gubernatorial race.


The pandemic became an important topic of discussion for both candidates. Hochul stressed the effectiveness of vaccination and boosters, especially with the “triple threat” of respiratory illnesses in children, COVID-19 and the flu.

Zeldin said he opposes all COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and added that workers who were fired for failing to comply with vaccination mandates should be rehired with back pay, particularly in healthcare. He also falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine fundamentally differs from other vaccines because it does not prevent infection.

“Let me be clear to all the parents who are out there — I will not mandate COVID vaccines for your kids, ever,” Zeldin said. “I don’t believe that there should be COVID vaccine mandates right now for our kids at SUNY and CUNY, community colleges and elsewhere.”

Zeldin has highlighted parental rights in his campaign. In May, he unveiled a “Student First” education plan which blocked COVID-19 vaccination requirements. It also emphasized “a parent’s fundamental right to be in control of their child’s education.”

Hochul said she is unsure whether she will support a vaccine mandate in schools, despite the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations.


Both Zeldin and Hochul emphasized the importance of revitalizing New York’s economy following the pandemic, though they disagreed on the best way of moving forward. Zeldin recommended decreasing spending and cutting taxes, while Hochul pointed to her previous policies, including reducing taxes for the middle class and providing a tax rebate for homeowners.

With rising housing costs statewide, both candidates proposed ways to bring down soaring rents. Hochul pointed to a proposal to build more than 1 million homes, which she said she will present at the next legislative session in January. Zeldin blamed long approval processes for pushing potential investors out of the state.

Zeldin also advocated for a reversal of New York’s ban on natural gas extraction to generate revenue, saying that the state would be “back open for business, baby.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected].