What we know thus far about the Republican campaign for governor

By virtue of her virtually limitless energy approach to the job, the people of the State of New York are coming to know a great deal about Governor Kathy Hochul.  Seemingly nonstop events from Long Island to Niagara Falls; the State of the State message; the presentation of her proposed 2022-2023 state budget; and the release of campaign financial reports have flooded the media with facts and commentary about the governor.  There is still a state Democratic Convention and a primary coming up with two challengers in the race, but it is hard to deny that we have a fairly good picture of Hochul’s priorities and where she wants to take the state.

The last Republican to win statewide office was George Pataki 20 years ago.  Gubernatorial candidates since then (John Faso, Carl Paladino, Rob Astorino, Marc Molinaro) have not come close to winning the office despite their best efforts.

For 2022 the Republicans and their friends in the Conservative Party months ago settled on a strategy of giving a strong if unofficial nod to Long Island Congressman Lee Zeldin as their candidate for governor.  The party leaderships and the candidate himself have for months referred to Zeldin as the “presumptive candidate.”  Rob Astorino and Andrew Guiliani beg to differ but their appeals do not seem to be going anywhere.  The Republican state Convention to make things official will be held at the end of February.  It is time to learn something about Mr. Zeldin.

It would seem fair to suggest that the average New Yorker has probably never heard of Zeldin and knows little to nothing about him even though he has been a candidate for governor since April 2021.  That is what campaigns are all about – telling voters about the candidate – who they are, what they have done in their lives, what they intend to do if they are elected.  There has not been much of that from him.

Zeldin thus far has demonstrated the ability to raise a decent amount of money for a challenger, far more than any of his recent Republican candidate predecessors have come close to collecting at this point in the campaign.  Since starting his campaign for governor Zeldin has taken in $8.4 million and as of January 14th had $5.6 million still in his accounts.  That means he has already spent about $2.8 million.  Since his visibility is still relatively low, spending that much money basically means that campaign staff, consultants and pollsters have been the major beneficiaries so far.

April 2021 is just eight months ago, but the state’s political landscape has changed considerably in that brief time.  Eight months ago Governor Andrew Cuomo, while having taken some serious political hits, was still riding high.  Zeldin focused his attention on Cuomo’s political vulnerabilities, which he viewed as considerable.  Sometimes political candidates can ride to a win just by being someone other than the incumbent.  The Cuomo focus is not an option for Zeldin anymore.

A look at Zeldin’s campaign website offers up the basics like his biography but not much else.  Zeldin is a graduate of SUNY/Albany and Albany Law School.  He served in the Army for four years, including a tour of duty in Iraq and continues to serve as a reservist.  He practiced law full-time for a short time after his military service.  He was elected to the State Senate in 2010.  Four years later he was elected to Congress.  Like many legislators early in their service Zeldin claims credit mostly for issues directly related to the constituencies he is serving.

Zeldin’s campaign website includes press releases criticizing Governor Hochul’s proposed budget as “an assault on New Yorkers’ wallets”; criticizes the state’s vaccine and mask mandates; slams the new New York County District Attorney concerning his plans for handling certain criminal offenses, calling on Hochul to remove the DA; and a variety of other responses to Hochul initiatives.   He suggests that Hochul follow the lead of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans concerning COVID policies.

Zeldin’s website is light on specifics about what he proposes to do to move New York forward.  Actually, “light on specifics” is an exaggeration.  You need to search through his press releases to find anything much other than basically “I will do the opposite of what Hochul is doing.”

Zeldin, as a member of Congress, was a strong and aggressive supporter of the former occupant of the White House.  His fealty to Trump includes support of efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election by challenging the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania.  He did so on the day that the Trump-directed mob attacked the United States Capitol and the police officers who were working to defend the Vice President and members of Congress.

There is no mention of Trump in Zeldin’s website or press statements, which probably makes him the only 2022 Republican candidate for governor in the United States who does not notably lust after the illustrious endorsement of the king of Mar-a-Lago.

At the moment we have no specific way of knowing what Lee Zeldin’s plans are for New York other than “I’m not her.”   New Yorkers are probably more interested in what needs to be done to make the state a better place to live and work. 

It should be an interesting campaign.

The state Board of Elections’ reply concerning Stefan Mychajlw’s campaign financial filings

 In a previous post I detailed an email exchange I had with the state BOE about a violation of the Election Law by the political committee Taxpayers for Stefan which failed to file a financial report that was due on November 29, 2021.  It was suggested to me that I could submit a Freedom of Information Law request about that, which I did.  Following is my FOIL request and the response I have received to that request.  I am also attaching my further reply to the BOE.

Politics and Other Stuff:  Please consider this a Freedom of Information request.

Please advise what enforcement actions the BOE will take against Taxpayers for Stefan (9975), a political committee which has failed to file its November 29, 2021 financial report.

NYS Board of Elections:  The New York State Board of Elections has received your request for access to potentially public documents, more specifically, “…what enforcement actions the BOE will take against Taxpayers for Stefan (9975), a political committee which has failed to file its November 29, 2021 financial report.”

The Enforcement Counsel has responded with the following: The disclosure of Enforcement Division materials not only has the potential to impede or obstruct investigations, but potentially undermines principles of fundamental fairness in investigations and prosecutions.  Therefore, we do not comment on whether the Division received complaints, the status of complaints, whether investigations are undertaken, or what enforcement actions are to be implemented.

You have 30 days from receipt of a denial of access to public records or portions thereof to appeal to:

                                FOIL Appeal Officer

                                New York State Board of Elections

                                40 North Pearl Street, Suite 5

                                Albany, NY 12207-2729

Thank you for your interest in the New York State Board of Elections.  This constitutes our complete response to your request.  If you require further assistance, please contact us again.

Politics and Other Stuff reply:  By way of public records included on the NYS BOE website it is established that the political committee Taxpayers for Stefan (9975) has violated the state Election Law by the committee’s failure to file the required financial report on November 29, 2021 (as well as the more recently required report that was due on January 18, 2022).  You advised in your prior correspondence that it is “the role of the Division of Election Law Enforcement” to routinely look to see if all political committees file their required financial disclosures.  I was further informed by the BOE that if I “have questions about a specific filer [I] can submit a Freedom of Information request about that filer” to your Enforcement Division.   I do not believe any of the facts in this instant paragraph are in dispute by me, the BOE or your Division.  Please advise if that is incorrect.

With that, in response to my FOIL request, the Division has replied that my FOIL request concerning Taxpayers for Stefan is denied because disclosing the information “has the potential to impede or obstruct investigations” and could also “potentially undermine principles of fundamental fairness in investigations and prosecutions.” 

Let me also point out the unreasonableness of the below contained in your reply:

“Therefore, we do not comment on whether the Division received complaints, the status of complaints, whether investigations are undertaken, or what enforcement actions are to be implemented.”

Adherence to your stated standard would prohibit any disclosure ever about any financial disclosure investigation or enforcement.   That position is not defensible under any reading of NY’s FOIL law.

While I could go through the procedure of appealing the denial of the requested information, I suspect that that will just provide me, after some delay in time, with the same conclusion I have already been given.

Cutting through the bureaucratic answer, the BOE’s denial of my request for information appears to me to actually mean that the BOE is in fact or should be investigating the obvious violation of the Election Law by Taxpayers for Stefan.

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