Rep. Zeldin Declares for Governor

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)

April 12, 2021 — Long Island US Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced late last week that he will run for governor next year in hopes of facing beleaguered New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). The move appears to be a risky one in that Zeldin would be jettisoning a relatively safe Republican congressional seat that is almost redistricting proof for a statewide race in very unfriendly political territory for his party.

Should Gov. Cuomo survive the impeachment offensive against him and seek and win re-nomination, then Zeldin would be in position to wage a competitive challenge campaign. Against any other Democrat, however, the pendulum undeniably swings back to the left.

Rep. Zeldin’s 1st Congressional District is essentially secure under almost any potential redistricting map because water borders the far eastern Long Island seat on three sides. Therefore, the only way the district can move is west meaning the core constituency remains intact. Of course, a lot depends upon whether New York loses one or two seats in reapportionment.

The only way to fundamentally change the 1st is to cut Districts 1 and 2 (Rep. Andrew Garbarino; R-Sayville/Islip) horizontally but doing so could conceivably make Democratic Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Kathleen Rice’s (D-Garden City) districts more Republican. Irrespective of what occurs with redistricting, Rep. Zeldin is likely risking a relatively secure political future in what possibly becomes a Republican controlled House of Representatives.

The Zeldin announcement, however, doesn’t mean he, or any other potential candidate, couldn’t change their minds. Candidate filing in New York for the 2022 election cycle will be set for April of next year prior to the June primary, and the region’s politics will change a great deal during the time interval between now and then.

At this point, the Cuomo situation seems to have stabilized. No longer are we seeing daily announcements of different women coming forward to accuse the governor of inappropriate sexual oriented behavior. Furthermore, the investigation into the COVID-related nursing home deaths, a more serious situation than the sexual impropriety allegations, will take a long time to unfold.

With the governor steadfastly refusing to resign, the state Assembly has introduced articles of impeachment against him. In the past two weeks, key legislative leaders have said that such a procedure is likely to consume months rather than weeks, so the odds of Cuomo being able to hold on throughout the remainder of the term are increasing.

If so, then the question of whether Gov. Cuomo will seek a fourth term saddled with his new political baggage comes to the forefront. Therefore, if he were to run for re-nomination, could he win, or will strong Democrats come forward to challenge him?

If Cuomo runs and survives what promises to be a rough nomination process, then a competitive general election against Rep. Zeldin or another viable Republican would likely occur. Additionally, he would then likely face the issue of at least the Working Families Party probably having their own candidate, and thus giving the most liberal voters another option. Such a move could allow a Republican to then win with a plurality vote.

Aside from Gov. Cuomo’s personal problems, the GOP would also have the tax and spend issue as the governor is now attempting to pass a budget bill that will include even more tax increases for individual taxpayers who are already overburdened with large levies from state and local governments in addition to their federal commitments.

Combined, the prognostication analysis suggests that while Gov. Cuomo may have enough political capital to finish the term, it appears unlikely that he will seek re-election or be awarded re-nomination even if he does run.

Should Rep. Zeldin follow through and run statewide, New York’s 1st District would be open for the first time since the 1986 election. The NY-1 electorate has a history of restlessness, which could be a factor in the congressman’s decision to announce a gubernatorial effort.

Of the 13 men who have represented the seat since World War II, seven were defeated for re-election or re-nomination. Zeldin’s four most recent predecessors all saw their congressional careers end with re-election losses. Therefore, despite the electorate’s generally Republican nature, the voters here typically make a change on average every five terms.

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