- - Saturday, May 1, 2021

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who represents the eastern end of Long Island, in April announced his intention to run for governor of New York.

That was an especially bold move, and he faces a difficult challenge.

New York has not elected a Republican statewide since George Pataki won the governor’s race in 2002. Even with the well-reported troubles of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Democrats are so unfortunately entrenched in Albany that Mr. Cuomo has managed to hang on despite a steady flow of sexual harassment complaints and admitted attempts by his team to obscure the truth about deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes in the state.

If the governor somehow survives politically and runs for a third term, he obviously would be a less formidable candidate then he would have otherwise been. If he does not, Tish James, the current attorney general, is likely to be the Democratic nominee.

Mr. Zeldin has his advantages as well. He is a native son of New York, and he and his family live in the same school district in which he lived as a child. He attended the State University of New York (SUNY)-Albany and Albany Law School. He’s lived in New York his entire life, except for his active-duty service in the Army, which included a tour in Iraq in 2006 with the 82nd Airborne. He still serves as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.



Mr. Zeldin was kind enough to chat with me about why he is running and what he wants to accomplish for New York.

The highlights are simple. Mr. Zeldin is running because he loves his native state and has concluded that single-party rule — Democratic rule — over the last 15 years has destroyed much of what made New York great and risks destroying what remains.

He makes his case in characteristically direct language: “New York is in bad shape. … People — passionately, emotionally — have been talking to me as if this is the last stand, a last great opportunity to save New York. They have been talking about attacks on our wallets, our safety and our freedoms.”

Mr. Zeldin would be a formidable candidate if the Republicans are wise enough to nominate him.

He is experienced and hard-nosed in campaigns, having won six consecutive contested races. He beat an incumbent Democrat to win a state Senate seat in 2010 and another incumbent Democrat in his 2014 race for Congress.

The Democrats have targeted him in each of those campaigns, typically with a million or more dollars in paid media. To send his own message, Mr. Zeldin raised an impressive $1 million in the first day of this campaign.

His district has flavors of both rural upstate and the suburbs of New York City. That makes him comfortable campaigning in all kinds of areas in the state.

He has a clear understanding of the three fundamental problems facing New York. First, that ever-increasing spending, which in turn drives tax increases, creates a downward spiral. In his words: “To pay for all of the spending, the taxes had to continue to increase. Just recently … they created a new income tax rate which is the highest income tax rate in the entire country. [T]hey did it …  to pay for a multi-billion-dollar fund for people who aren’t even legally in our country.”

Second, unlike the current leaders of the state, he understands that public safety is the principal purpose and function of state and local government.

Finally, he believes, correctly, that quality in-person education is an essential government function.

On a personal level, Mr. Zeldin is a serious man with a direct demeanor perhaps borne from being a combat veteran, perhaps borne from being a lawyer whose expertise includes international rule of law. Unlike many in politics nowadays, he focuses on facts, policy and beliefs rather than emotions, personal attacks or the swirl.

As an elected official, he is a bit of a throwback. He has a good and helpful habit of listening to constituents and arranging his priorities accordingly. In this, he is much like another current candidate in New York (Andrew Yang, who is running for mayor of New York City), which should make New Yorkers feel better about their prospects.

What does he hear from constituents? “They are getting close to their own breaking points. They are citing the high cost of living, not making enough to make ends meet, the rising crime, cashless bail, not supporting law enforcement enough, our kids not getting back in school in many places across New York. At the same time, New Yorkers are watching other states provide a pathway to more prosperity and more freedom …“

Despite all this, Mr. Zeldin is optimistic. “[W]e know what it takes to win, we have a great plan, and great team. … The financial support is there. The volunteer base is there. And we’re going to work our tails off the next year and a half to bring home a win and help save the state.”

As a native New Yorker who still has great affection for the Empire State, I hope he is successful.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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