By a relatively slim margin, Governor Kathy Hochul won her campaign to be elected the first woman to lead New York State. Anxiety among the Democrats that she would lose to Long Island congressman Lee Zeldin, who ran a strong race, appears to have been overblown. Hochul’s margin of victory was roughly where the polls had it, in the mid-single digits, which is extremely weak by New York statewide standards; Andrew Cuomo won in 2018 by 23 points. Almost every county in the state voted for Zeldin by a greater margin than it had for Trump in 2020, though all upstate urban centers gave Hochul a solid majority. Nevertheless, in an election that became a referendum on crime and public safety, New York voters have indicated their apparent satisfaction with the state’s current direction.
The election hinged on New York City, where experts estimated that Zeldin needed to get between 33 percent and 35 percent to win statewide. Tepid enthusiasm for a weak, uncharismatic Democrat in what was hyped as a “red wave” year, combined with an atrocious and continuing spike in crime and disorder across the city, were thought to provide a combination of electoral factors that could elect New York’s first statewide Republican in a generation. But New York City’s voters—or at least the ones in its four blue boroughs—proved impervious to appeals from the right that the state’s criminal-justice system is in disarray.
The crime numbers are staggering and hard to digest. Across the city, serious “index” crime is up 29 percent since last year, and 32 percent since 2020. Robbery is up 31 percent, and felony assault 14 percent. Transit crime, in a system under the governor’s control, is up 40 percent. The subway system has seen nine murders so far this year, and stabbings and beatings underground occur with alarming frequency. The legalization of marijuana and Hochul’s virtual decriminalization of open drug use have unleashed chaos on New York City streets. Used syringes lying uncapped on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan, almost never seen until recently, are now common, as is the sight of addicts hunched over with a needle looking for a vein to tap.
Hopes that the stark decline of quality of life and public safety would alarm a sleeping silent majority into voting Republican—if only this once—ran high as Election Day approached. It didn’t happen. Preliminary results show that Hochul annihilated Zeldin in Manhattan, beating him by 64 points, across every assembly district and at the most granular level, in every electoral district, which covers only a few blocks. Her support among Manhattan voters was wide and deep. In Chinatown, where some thought that the GOP message of safe streets, colorblind access to resources, and appreciation for hard work and small business would make significant inroads in a community hammered by crime, racially focused hate, and a Democratic attack on the principle of academic merit, Hochul rang up big numbers.
It’s true that statewide, voters seemed less enthusiastic about Hochul’s platform of protecting abortion, punishing legal gun owners, driving up energy prices, and protecting “our democracy.” Even her home base of Erie County, where she served as the county clerk, and which she briefly represented in Congress, gave Hochul no better results than she received statewide. Much of upstate New York is now socio-economically indistinguishable from Appalachia, and the region’s relation to downstate is icy and fraught.
One sure thing going forward is that Governor Hochul will not look at her tight margin of victory and discover humility. This is the same woman, after all, who exhorted a group of churchgoers to be her “apostles” and encouraged all Republicans to leave the state. For her, victory means vindication of her claim that Lee Zeldin really was “hyperventilating” about crime and that voters should dismiss talk about public safety as a “conspiracy.” She can continue to slam statistics that run counter to her narrative as “data denial.”
It’s not far-fetched to predict that Governor Hochul will soon rescind her last-minute funding of overtime shifts for the NYPD to patrol the subways. She will likely not bother fighting with the legislature about making changes to bail reform. The voters have spoken, and they have effectively told her that they don’t care that much about rising crime. If they don’t, why should she? Mayor Eric Adams, who was accused of offering lukewarm support to her campaign and who reportedly was looking forward to working with a Governor Zeldin, will be low on her list of people to whom she owes favors. The hard-left Working Families Party, on the other hand, showed up to campaign for her and drive turnout in the last few weeks. The WFP will likely have a long agenda of to-do items for Hochul when she begins her next term.
In sum, New Yorkers who care about safe streets, quality of life, and economic prosperity lost out. There weren’t enough of them.
Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images