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Democrats portray Zeldin as 'extreme' as he presses attack on Hochul over crime, economy

The political pile-on started Thursday in a West Seneca parking lot with the Erie County Democratic Party chairman, county executive and an assemblywoman in front of a mobile billboard truck.

“Thank you for joining us on this first step of the ‘New Yorkers Against Extreme Lee Zeldin’ statewide tour,’ ” said Chairman Jeremy Zellner. 

With that, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s re-election campaign kicked into high gear with the New York State Democratic Party rolling out a series of news conferences bringing together local elected leaders across upstate to paint Lee Zeldin, her Republican challenger, as a pro-Trump, anti-Constitution, anti-woman and pro-gun extremist who represents a “real threat to both our fundamental rights and our democracy.”

Zellner, County Executive Mark Poloncarz and Democratic Assemblywoman Monica Wallace stood together to lay out several themes that voters can expect to hear until Election Day: that Zeldin is dangerous to democracy and a threat to abortion rights and gun safety legislation.

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Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was expected to attend the news conference but skipped it in favor of a Buffalo Bills season kickoff celebration at City Hall.

Zellner described the Long Island congressman as a “far right fringe” politician, blindly loyal to former President Donald Trump. He noted that Zeldin recently hosted a fundraiser featuring Trump, a bid to raise cash as he faces being overwhelmingly outspent by Hochul.

The “extreme Lee Zeldin” tour will continue this month, with other stops planned for Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton, said James Martin, a spokesman for State Democratic Party. 

In response to the Democratic tour, Zeldin’s campaign referred to his earlier response this week to questions about Hochul portraying him as an extreme Republican. Zeldin said Hochul is going on the attack because she can’t defend her record when it comes to crime and economic development.

Zeldin said that what New Yorkers consider “extreme” are positions Hochul and her supporters have taken regarding cashless bail and other criminal justice changes that he said results in violent criminals and drug runners getting off with misdemeanors and being released to commit other crimes. He also pointed to other Hochul policies that he said stifle businesses and consumers.

“If we were to go knock on some doors, or we were just standing there in the streets, New Yorkers are telling us that the top two issues are crime and the economy,” he said.

During a visit to Buffalo in June, Zeldin said it’s the state government controlled by New York City Democrats that is extreme.

“There are a lot of Democrats in Erie County who are disenfranchised,” he said. “They feel like the party has left them.

“It’s a very far left view of what the future of New York and America should look like,” he said during a visit at the time to Erie County Republican Headquarters on Main Street.

Poloncarz on Thursday picked up on the “threat to democracy” theme, recalling the Capitol insurrection and Zeldin’s vote in January to decertify votes in some states after Joe Biden was elected president. He held up a booklet of the U.S. Constitution and depicted Zeldin as a man who doesn’t believe in the peaceful transition of power or respect the rule of law.

“Lee Zeldin has committed his full support and commitment to Donald Trump, a man who spit on this Constitution by fomenting an insurrection that cost lives,” he said.

Wallace criticized Zeldin’s anti-abortion position, saying he voted against exceptions that would allow abortions in cases of rape or incest and has supported the overturning of the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. She also criticized his position about about wanting to name a state health commissioner who is pro-life.

“He’s basically telling women in this New York State that he cares more about his radical agenda than about their health care,” she said, adding that his position regarding a woman’s unplanned pregnancy rights are “astonishingly arrogant” and “astonishingly anti-woman.” 

Brown was expected to pick up the anti-Zeldin thread by criticizing the congressman’s pro-gun rights position. Since the mayor wasn’t there, Poloncarz and Wallace fielded that topic and reminded everyone of the horrors of the May 14 racist mass shooting at Tops in Buffalo, followed by the mass shooting of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas.  

“According to Lee Zeldin, there should be no gun rules,” Poloncarz said. “It should be an open game, so to speak, and unfortunately, that’s what it’s become. It’s open game on our citizens.”

He noted how Rep. Chris Jacobs was “run out of the Republican Party” for supporting some gun control legislation in the wake of the May 14 massacre and criticized Zeldin for not supporting “common sense” bipartisan gun safety legislation. 

“Lee Zeldin voted no,” Poloncarz said. “He spit in the face of every family that lost a loved on on May 14th.”

Sounding increasingly incensed, Poloncarz referred to the fact that many victims of that tragedy had closed casket services because they were shot in the head and could be identified only by tattoos and other markings.

“According to Lee Zeldin, we should all be able to get body armor and we should all be able to buy an AR-15 and walk down the street like it’s the OK Corral,” he said. “My God, it’s 2022, not 1822! We are better than that.”