This Week in the Mayonnaise Clinic: Rough Times For Blue-State Democrats
Plus: I had forgotten there would be ballot questions.
There’s an election coming up, and a number of you have questions about it! Fortunately, I have answers.
Like you, I'm a former Republican who was more than a little turned off by the rise of the Tea Party and then switched parties upon the eve of Trump. I'm committed to ensuring the extremists who dominate the GOP do not succeed, but I've retained a lot of my moderate political instincts and am concerned about the direction of my home state of New York.
I have no reason to trust Lee Zeldin. He came up in the Tea Party era, his "state of emergency" and "fire Bragg" approach to the crime problem seem gimmicky and rash, and I can't bring myself to support someone who voted to overturn the election. But I'm also concerned about the direction of the state in general, and while I broadly support Governor Kathy Hochul's infrastructure plans, I feel that the city is hamstrung in its ability to address quality of life issues because of state policies that do not appear likely to change.
What are your thoughts on this race, and are you optimistic about the state of our state?
I’m going to be voting to re-elect Gov. Hochul, but not very happily, and I think that describes a lot of New York voters heading into this election. Indeed, this seems to be an emerging theme across lots of blue states — “abortion rights under threat” is not an urgent message here; Democrats have had plenty of room to overreach; and as such, the party’s political position is deteriorating more sharply in places like New York and California than in purple or red states, where hemmed-in Democrats have more favorable contrasts to make with scary, extreme Republicans. And I get why.
Republican Lee Zeldin is making hay out of the crime issue, which makes sense, because crime is up materially in New York City — back approximately to the levels that prevailed in 2005, as I wrote a few weeks ago. I do believe the state’s bail reform law was ill-considered and has hindered the city’s ability to respond to the substantial increase in crime. It’s become too hard to detain people who should be off the streets.
As Adam notes, Republicans can be demagogic on crime, but I’m more bothered by New York Democrats who are frequently obtuse on the issue, talking endlessly about “root causes” and wanting to reframe the data in ways that seek to deny that a ~34% spike in major crime is a real problem. I’d also note that our governing institutions are actually overseen by Democrats, and even the ones who say the right things about the importance of policing and crime prevention, such as Mayor Eric Adams, have not actually managed to deliver more effective policing in New York.
I’m also displeased with the broader leftward lurch of the state legislature. One of my biggest complaints is that the large and progressive Democratic majority tightened the city’s rent laws in a way that has intensified the housing shortage and exacerbated the surge in rents for market-rate units, while also allowing the main law that encourages the construction of new market-rate apartment buildings to lapse instead of reforming it.
All of which is to say, I would like a check on the left-wing policy that’s coming out of Albany, and I would gladly vote for the right Republican gubernatorial candidate to provide it. Indeed, I voted for Republican Marc Molinaro over Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 election. If Republicans had nominated Molinaro again, or businessman Harry Wilson (who lost the primary), or former Hudson Valley congressman Chris Gibson (who’s left politics to be a university president), then that’s who I’d be voting for.
But I don’t like Lee Zeldin, and I won’t vote for him.
I share the concerns Adam lists — in particular, while I voted against Alvin Bragg, he was duly elected DA by the voters of Manhattan, and I think it’s crazy to propose removing him from office over a policy disagreement. (Over in Pennsylvania, where there’s an effort to impeach and remove Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner over a similar policy dispute, even Doug Mastriano is talking about how you have to honor election results when the voters do something stupid.) I object to Zeldin’s embrace of Donald Trump, and I find that he embodies the recent national trends in the Republican Party I despise. He does not remind me of George Pataki.
As for Hochul, I’ve found her to be somewhat disappointing. As an example, she signed a bill earlier this year to create an unfunded class-size mandate on New York City’s public schools, over the public objections of Mayor Adams. This law was a priority for the city’s teacher’s union, and will reduce the city’s flexibility in the fiscal crisis that Adams is likely to need to address over the next couple of years. On less weighty issues, I don’t think subsidizing a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills is a good use of taxpayer dollars, I’m wary of the plan she supports to place three new full-service casinos downstate, and I was annoyed that she kept a rule requiring face masks on subways and at airports nominally in force for months after such rules were lifted nearly everywhere else.
There are bright spots: Hochul did get a partial revision of the bail law. She twisted legislative arms to make it legal for restaurants to sell to-go cocktails. This sounds like a trivial issue, but one of the things I’ve liked best about Hochul-Adams governance is that they have both fought for the revival of the restaurant and bar industries in New York by simply looking for ways to keep the government out of the industry’s way. And I appreciate Hochul’s push to get more dense development in perhaps the most appropriate location for such development in the whole Western Hemisphere — the vicinity of Penn Station.
Hochul also advocated a statewide zoning reform that would have legalized accessory units as a strategy to ameliorate the state’s housing shortage. Albany badly needs the spirit of housing deregulation that has come to prevail among Democrats in Sacramento. Unfortunately, even that relatively modest reform did not become law — it got tanked by a bipartisan coalition of suburban lawmakers, cheered on by Zeldin, who called Hochul’s plan to legalize in-law units a “blatant attack on suburban communities.” As such, though I have serious reservations about Democrats on housing and development, I am skeptical that Zeldin would be better on the issue. Politicians from Long Island rarely are.
Hochul’s campaign strategy of painting Zeldin as unacceptable isn’t very inspiring, and she’s not likely to win by as much as I thought she was going to a month ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad message — after all, I do find Zeldin unacceptable, and that’s the primary reason I’ll be voting for Hochul. My main hope about the election is that Democrats will lose ground in the state legislature, and the combination of a narrower majority and a recognition that the party got punished for being too extreme will lead to more moderate policy outputs in the next session.
I’m going to answer one more question on the New York ballot this week for paying subscribers, but if you have more questions about elections in your state, write to me at email@example.com and I might have time to get another election edition of the Mayonnaise Clinic out before Tuesday, November 8. By the way: in case you missed it, I wrote in a recent Mayonnaise Clinic about the two sports betting-related propositions on the California ballot.