Drums Along the Hudson River Valley

A mere six months ago, 2022 Republican victories in Democrat-controlled New York State looked unlikely. Less than a month before the November 8 election, polling indicates that voters will probably elect their first Republican governor in 30 years with Lee Zeldin. Several congressional races are competitive along the 200-mile corridor running up the Hudson River from Yonkers to Albany and in districts running east from the Queens border to Montauk on Long Island.

Should the current Republican momentum continue through election day, up to a dozen Republicans could comprise the state’s downsized 26-member Congressional delegation, compared to eight Republicans in the current 27-member crew.

How could this be happening in a state with Democrat supermajorities in the legislature and incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul having raised a massive $46 million in campaign funds? The answer is the hubris of Democrats after nearly a decade of one-party rule.

In 2019, embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation instituting no-bail for the vast majority of crimes against people and property, hogtied prosecutors with unreasonable deadlines, and raised the age for prosecution as an adult to 18 from 16, to appease the radically progressive New York City legislators and stay in office. Once Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul replaced Cuomo, she lacked the political legitimacy to resist the New York City progressives, despite rising property and violent crime in the state’s cities and suburbs.

Image: Lee Zeldin. YouTube screengrab.

Her weakness has fostered visceral voter unease about whether Democratic policies deliver the most basic role of government: public safety. Voters are concerned about the number of incidents in New York City’s suburbs, including a drive-by shooting in front of Zeldin’s home on Long Island, a shooting on a Bee-Line bus in Yonkers, and looting at the upscale Westchester mall in White Plains.

Adding to their self-inflicted wounds was the legislature’s arrogant gerrymandering of congressional districts following the 2020 census exclusively to help Democrat incumbents and the loss of a Congressional seat. The state’s highest court threw the legislature’s plans out and redrew the districts in the spring of 2022. Instead of a Congressional map ensuring Democratic victories, the resulting new districts were more favorable to the GOP. The court’s decision forced late June primaries, which left both parties scrambling, particularly the Democrats.

The redistricting affects the congressional outcomes as well as leadership. The focus of much attention is CD-17, which covers northern Westchester, Rockland County, and part of Putnam County where Assemblyman Michael Lawler is challenging incumbent Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, the Chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.

CD-17 voted +10% for Biden, but the district is regarded as a toss-up. Private polling shows Lawler slightly ahead. Maloney is burdened by President Biden’s sub-par approval numbers, high inflation, and concerns about crime, weaknesses on which Lawler has been hitting hard. A popular member of the New York legislature, Lawler has been designated as a GOP “Young Gun” and has been supported by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Lawler has been campaigning side-by-side with Lee Zeldin, benefitting from increasingly positive polling for the GOP gubernatorial candidate. In contrast, Maloney would be foolish to bring the unpopular President in to campaign.

Due north are two other toss-ups. CD-18, where another popular Republican Assemblyman, Colin Schmidt, is running in an open seat against Democrat Pat Ryan, who is basing his entire argument on abortion, which appears to be losing steam to kitchen table concerns of crime and inflation. In CD-19, the Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is squaring off against Democrat political newcomer Josh Riley. Molinaro has name recognition and a solid track record, but the new district includes some strongly Democratic areas in the north. Riley’s strategy is also hammering on abortion.

The Hudson Valley’s sleeper is CD-16 in southern Westchester, where the one-term incumbent Democrat and “Squad” member Jamaal Bowman is facing Republican Dr. Miriam Levitt Flisser, an emigrant from Eastern Europe after WWII, a well-known pediatrician, and former Mayor of Scarsdale. In the midst of the George Floyd-obsessed summer of 2020, Bowman upset long-term Democrat Eliot Engel, a well-respected politician and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Political analysts believe that the ouster of Engel was due to an unlikely alliance between black and Jewish voters.

In 2022, Bowman is running in a district that is significantly different: instead of being mostly located in the Bronx, it is mostly suburban Westchester, where the cities and towns range from affluent Bronxville, Scarsdale, and Rye to the poverty-challenged City of Mount Vernon. It is 42% white, 27% Hispanic, and 21% black. Voter registrations in Westchester are roughly 2.4 to 1 Democratic, compared to a 90% Democrat majority in the Bronx. Despite the registration, there are strongly Republican blue-collar towns including Eastchester, Elmsford, and Port Chester.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is which way the Jewish vote goes. The Jewish community comprises 20% of CD-16, double the state’s average, and they have been vocal about their discomfort with Bowman’s opposition to the Abraham Accords and his close association with the Democratic Socialists of America and the “Squad.”

Much is at stake for both parties in the improbable battleground state of New York. If Lawler prevails, the Democrats lose leadership. Not so for the Republicans: Elise Stefanik, Chair of the House Republican Conference is the third-ranking House Republican, represents strongly Republican CD-21 in the Champlain Valley.

Adding the five potentially Republican Hudson Valley Congressional Districts to three on Long Island and the two safe Republican seats held by Stefanik and Nicole Malliotakis on Staten Island, and two Trump +18% districts in western New York, the result is a possible new, New York Congressional delegation of 12.

This could be the beginning of something interesting.

Linda R. Killian is a retired financial services executive and Chairman of a local New York Republican committee.

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