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GOP governor candidates spar over the economy, Trump and abortion in debate

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ALBANY — The Republican candidates for governor on Monday sought to emphasize their differences while targeting Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul for fostering a liberal bent in state government that has made the state less safe and increasingly unaffordable.

Each candidate — Lee Zeldin, Harry Wilson, Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani — called for deep cuts in state spending and massive cuts in taxes and the cost of living.

But they backed increased funding for law enforcement to attack what they said were rising crime rates under Hochul and the Democrat-controlled State Legislature.

All of them also said they would prefer to rein in state abortion laws to at least reduce the number of late-term abortions, which is now allowed if the health of the mother is at risk.

Wilson, a business owner specializing in turning around troubled companies, and Astorino, a former Westchester County executive, took aim at Zeldin, a GOP congressman from Shirley who has the support of most county Republican leaders.

Zeldin shot back with a series of nicknames out of the Donald Trump campaign playbook.

He called Astorino “Rolex Rob” to try to portray him his out of touch with most New Yorkers while referring to Wilson as a “never Trumper Harry Wilson” in an effort to paint him as out of step with most New Yorkers Republicans.

Andrew Giuliani, a former Trump White House aide who is the son of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said he would make reducing the cost of living in New York a top priority, and usher in hydrofracking for fossil fuels that Democrats have halted as a threat to the environment.

“We can make New York the best fracking state in the country,” Giuliani said, calling the process a way to increase prosperity while reducing energy costs.

Zeldin agreed fossil fuels in the Marcellus Shale deposit can be extracted safely through fracking, but argued more must be done to bolster the state’s economy.

“I have a plan that would provide the largest tax cut in the history of New York,” Zeldin said.

“Everyone is leaving New York because nobody can afford it,” Astorino said.

Wilson promised “the biggest tax cut in history,” including with a 20% cut in income taxes and property taxes “for everyone in the state.”

Each candidate said crime has to be reduced in order for New York to prosper.

Each said they would revise or end the state’s bail law that ended cash bail for misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies.

Backers of the bill said it would prevent low-income defendants from languishing jail because they can’t afford bail.

On abortion, the Republicans said Hochul and Democratic state lawmakers have gone too far in protecting women’s’ right to abortions, particularly in the third trimester.

“New York law is going too far when it allows late-term abortions,” Zeldin said.

“I’m pro-life and I’m not afraid to say it,” Giuliani said.

Wilson said he wasn’t “comfortable” with allowing late-term abortions. But he said: “I will not fight to change the law.”

Astorino said the fact is abortion won’t be repealed in New York, but abortions can be reduced by providing more care and support for mothers.

“We can have a reasonable discussion in this state,” Astorino said.

The hourlong debate was aired on WCBS Ch. 2.

All the candidates appeared in-studio in person except for Giuliani, who appeared remotely after refusing the station’s demand that he provide proof of vaccination.

The primary for both parties is scheduled for June 28.

Astorino, 55, of South Salem, was county executive in Westchester County executive for two terms, where Democrats controlled the county legislature and had a 3:1 voter enrollment advantage over Republicans.

Giuliani, 36, of Manhattan, often cites the record of his father, who remains popular among many state Republicans.

Wilson, 50, of Scarsdale made his Wall Street fortune turning around failing businesses. He worked on turning around the nation’s auto industry during the Great Recession while in the Obama administration.

Zeldin, 42, is a three-term congressman from Shirley and a former New York State senator. He’s also an attorney and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.