A debate over the direction public safety should take in New York has dominated the race for governor. But with rising consumer prices and a tanking stock market, economic concerns are increasingly coming to the forefront in the race.
A Siena College poll released Wednesday found half of voters picked the economy as their top issue this election season, with crime falling to third behind threats to democracy.
“This is the more traditional election in a lot of ways,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg. “Let’s go back 30 years when (former advisor to Bill Clinton) James Carville famously said, ‘it’s the economy, stupid.'”
Republican candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, has invested his campaign deeply in calling for changes to New York’s criminal justice laws he has blamed for a rise in violent crime. He backs a repeal of a law ending cash bail for many criminal charges and would seek to roll back other changes that had been sought and won by progressive advocates.
“It’s important to a big section of New York voters and certainly Zeldin is trying to appeal to them, but the question is that enough to push him over the top?” Greenberg said.
Hochul has countered with efforts meant to curtail gun violence and a rise in shootings by focusing on the flow of illegal weapons into New York. On Wednesday, she announced $50 million for law enforcement to purchase new equipment and strengthen pre-trial services so people make their court dates.
She has pointedly rejected any push to cut police budgets.
“I will assist you in any way possible and that includes making sure you have the resoures — what you need from us to take New Yorkers safe,” Hochul said at a conference of police and law enforcement officials in Albany on Wednesday morning.
Zeldin has also focused on his share of economic issues, pledging to cut income taxes and end the estate tax while also limiting the growth of the state budget. He wants to allow hydrofracking, a gas drilling process the state first banned in 2014.
Hochul, meanwhile, has pointed to pocketbook issues addressed in the budget. New York has partially suspended taxes on gasoline purchases, which is due to expire at the end of the year. The budget also included expanded child care funding and aid for homeowners.
More broadly, Hochul successfully socked away money in the state’s rainy day fund in order to offset a projected drop in tax revenue next year, a move that could alleviate the strain on services like education and health care.
“I’m very cognizant of the challenges,” Hochul said. “I don’t need a poll to tell me the economy is a problem. There’s some factors we can control and there’s some factors we cannot. But the state of New York also is in very good financial condition.”
New Yorkers and the country as a whole have faced spiking inflation. Gas prices have declined this summer, but are still higher than they were a year ago. Utility rate increases are expected this winter.
New York’s economic recovery from the pandemic has not been as fast as the rest of the country, and at 4.7% in August, is higher than the rest of the country.
Republicans see an opportunity this year as they try to win back power in Albany. State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt blasted Democratic efforts to transition to more renewable forms of energy, calling the existing plans too disruptive and too expensive.
“There’s a lot of historical cases we can look at,” Ortt said. “Elections where the economy was not good, at the end of the day that is what people going to the polling booth are going to be thinking about.”