In the race for New York governor, there is only one real choice: Gov. Kathy Hochul, the first woman to hold the post, should be elected to serve a full term. Her extremist Republican opponent, Representative Lee Zeldin, is wrong for New York.
Eastern Long Island voters are familiar with Mr. Zeldin and know well not to underestimate his political drive. He took on Representative Tim Bishop in an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2007 then won a seat in the New York State Assembly three years later. Mr. Zeldin then went to Washington after defeating Mr. Bishop in a 2014 rematch. Now he stands a fair, though long-shot, chance of becoming governor of New York — largely because of his high regard among supporters of former president Donald J. Trump. But, other than bile and personal ambition, what he actually stands for is difficult to determine.
Ms. Hochul, who also served in Congress, has been a welcome break from the self-serving former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo show. Like Mr. Zeldin, she went into public life shortly after finishing law school. Her rise has been more methodical than his, starting in 1984 as an aide for Representative John LaFalce of Buffalo, then working for the legendary New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. She became deputy clerk of New York’s Erie County in 2003, then was its county clerk until 2011, when she won a special election for the House of Representatives. She served less than two years in Congress, failing to win re-election in 2012. She was elected lieutenant governor in 2015 and took over the top job last year. This gives Ms. Hochul a depth of New York real world experience that Mr. Zeldin does not come close to possessing.
As have many other politicians, Mr. Zeldin exaggerated his military service, falsely claiming that he was on the front lines in Iraq as a paratrooper when, in fact, he was in the war zone less than three months in the summer of 2006, as a military judge. Not long after leaving active duty, he declared his candidacy for Congress; he lost, a fact he omits when recounting his biography. His time as a state senator was undistinguished, with the sense that he was biding time before another shot at going to Washington. In 2014, he trounced Mr. Bishop, in part by campaigning on a made-up scandal involving a private fireworks display for which the congressman had helped secure a permit. But once in Congress, Mr. Zeldin all but disappeared from Long Island, showing up to meet constituents only in the most friendly settings. Aside from at campaign events and Republican fund-raisers, he has always been especially absent in and around East Hampton Town, which does not bode well for the complex issues the region faces if he were to become governor.
As an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s candidacy and eager surrogate on conservative media, Mr. Zeldin’s name recognition grew among members of the right; much of his grassroots support has come from small donors out of state. Mr. Zeldin’s rise in visibility culminated in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, standing up in Congress after the violent mob had been routed on Jan. 6 to continue to press false conspiracies of voter fraud. He has recently been shown to have been plotting around the time of the election, sending text messages to the Trump chief of staff with tips about casting doubt on Joe Biden’s legitimate victory. He now hopes these lies will carry him to the governor’s mansion. Mr. Zeldin has run a reprehensible, race-baiting campaign but offers no clear vision of leadership. As governor, he would be divisive, to say the least.
Ms. Hochul’s trajectory has been steady, if improbable. Though she worked in lower-profile posts for most of her political career, she used that time to learn the ins and outs of Albany and Washington alike. She seems genuinely interested in the lives of New Yorkers from all over the state, something that was lacking in her imperious predecessor. Her record on affordable housing, middle class tax cuts, jobs, and the environment is good. She has worked to strengthen protection of reproductive freedom and to toughen gun laws. Ms. Hochul is cleareyed on climate change, in contrast to Mr. Zeldin, whose environmental record is near the bottom, according to the League of Conservation Voters.
Ms. Hochul may have seemed at first an unlikely governor, but she has already proven herself to be a good one. New York got lucky when she assumed the role.