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Hochul triumphs over Jewish challenger Zeldin in close New York governor race

Democrat becomes first woman to win state gubernatorial race; Republican says close contest indicates New Yorkers ‘hitting their breaking point’

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to supporters during her election night party, November 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to supporters during her election night party, November 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK — Democrat Kathy Hochul declared victory in New York’s gubernatorial race on Tuesday night, overcoming an unexpected challenge from Republican opponent Lee Zeldin and becoming the first woman to be elected governor of the state.

“Tonight, a glass ceiling was shattered in the state of New York,” said Hochul, who previously served as lieutenant governor and stepped into office last year when former governor Andrew Cuomo resigned due to a sexual harassment scandal.

“Tonight you made your voices heard loud and clear. And you made me the first woman ever elected to be the governor of the state of New York. But I’m not here to make history, I’m here to make a difference,” Hochul told supporters.

She overcame Zeldin, a Jewish supporter of Donald Trump who campaigned on crime and the economy and made significant inroads with Haredi Jews with promises to protect the yeshiva school system.

The Associated Press and other outlets called the race for Hochul in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Zeldin initially refused to concede. Speaking late Tuesday night to dejected supporters at a swanky event space in Manhattan after Hochul declared a win, Zeldin said, “We have been crushing the election day vote all across the entire state.”

“What’s going to happen is that over the course of these next couple of hours you’re going to see the race continue to get closer and closer,” he said to raucous applause and members of the crowd yelling, “Do not concede!”

The prediction didn’t pan out. Zeldin acknowledged defeat on Wednesday afternoon after the ongoing vote count showed that he had no path to victory. With around 95% of ballots counted, Hochul remained over five points and more than 320,000 votes ahead.

“I would like to congratulate New York Governor Kathy Hochul on her election,” Zeldin said in a statement. “This race was a once in a generation campaign, with a very close margin in the bluest of states.”

“New Yorkers of all walks of life are sick of the attacks on their wallets, their safety, their freedoms and the quality of their kids’ education and are hitting their breaking point, as proven by these results,” he said.

Hochul scored major wins in most of New York City, the state’s population center, securing her victory. She also carried her hometown Buffalo in western New York and other urban areas including Rochester, Syracuse and the capital Albany, plus parts of the Hudson Valley.

Zeldin took his native Long Island and most rural areas of upstate, central and western New York, which are far less populous than the urban centers.

Hochul had been expected to win in the solidly blue state, but Zeldin made the race competitive in the closing weeks, narrowing Hochul’s lead to the single digits and appearing to have caught the Democrats off guard. New York has not elected a Republican governor since 2002.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul at a campaign rally in New York City, November 5, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The Democrats focused their campaign on alleged Republican attacks against democracy, abortion and other rights, including health care. Hochul promised support for labor groups, tied crime to Republican laws allowing firearms and enlisted party all-stars to her campaign including President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton.

Zeldin voted against certifying Biden’s election victory after the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, along with 146 other Republican lawmakers.

New York’s Jewish population is overwhelmingly Democratic and was expected to heavily favor Hochul. She campaigned with Jewish politicians including Senator Chuck Schumer and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine in the closing days of the campaign.

Both candidates, but especially Zeldin, also reached out to Haredi communities.

The yeshiva school system has come under heavy pressure under Hochul’s watch, although the education system is not under the governor’s purview and Hochul sought to distance herself from the issue.

A truck bears a pro-Republican campaign message in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, November 8, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Zeldin’s promises to protect the system if elected appeared to resonate with many Haredi voters, as did his focus on crime, and he scored a slew of endorsements from Haredi community leaders. He also leaned into his Jewish background and won support in Haredi areas of the city and Hudson Valley.

Zeldin on Tuesday drew crowds in Haredi areas of Brooklyn’s Flatbush and dined at a Kosher pizzeria with community leaders in Midwood. In Williamsburg, trucks blasting Republican messaging in Yiddish circled the neighborhood and posters in Crown Heights urged residents to “protect our children” and vote Republican in a nod to yeshivas.

Republican candidate for New York governor Lee Zeldin, second from left, arrives for a campaign stop at Perizia Pizza restaurant in the Midwood Section in the Brooklyn borough of New York, November 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

One branch of the Satmar community, a major Hasidic group, endorsed Hochul though, and another was noticeably silent on the governor’s race.

Hochul and other Democratic leaders including New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Attorney General Letitia James have strong ties to Jewish communities. The governor has repeatedly spoken out against antisemitism and has provided support for Holocaust survivors and security funding, including $96 million for community organizations at risk of hate crimes announced on Monday. Jews are consistently the group most targeted in hate crimes in the city.

She reached out to Haredi Jews during the campaign, including by visiting the gravesite of former Chabad-Lubavitch leader Menachem Mendel Schneerson last week, and sought support from community leaders in Rockland county outside the city as recently as Sunday, two sources said.

In other New York midterm races, Schumer cruised to reelection for his fifth consecutive term, although his position as Senate majority leader still hangs in the balance. A Brooklyn native, Schumer is the top-ranking elected Jewish lawmaker in US history.

Jewish House Representative Jerry Nadler was re-elected to Congress in the newly drawn 12th Congressional District in Manhattan.

Daniel Goldman won New York’s 10th Congressional District in lower Manhattan and a part of Brooklyn by a huge margin.

On Staten Island, Jewish Democrat Max Rose lost a comeback bid to Republican Nicole Malliotakis, who dethroned Rose in 2020 to become the city’s only Republican in Congress. Rose’s campaign signs were been defaced with antisemitic graffiti several times during the campaign in the outlying, mostly Republican borough.

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