Lee Zeldin, the former congressman and 2022 Republican nominee for governor of New York, joins Reihan Salam to discuss the lessons of his campaign and the political future of the Empire State. 

Audio Transcript

Theodore Kupfer: Welcome back to 10 Blocks. This week’s special episode features audio from a Manhattan institute event with Reihan Salam, the president of the Manhattan Institute, and Lee Zeldin, former congressman and the Republican gubernatorial candidate for New York in 2022.

Reihan Salam: Good evening everyone, and thank you for coming to tonight's conversation with former congressman Lee Zeldin, part of our Klinsky Leadership series. It's no secret to those of us gathered here that New York faces profound challenges. With the support of Steve Klinsky, we at MI have convened leading public officials and policy intellectuals to think deeply and creatively about our city's future.

So I'd like to extend a special thank you to Mr. Klinsky for his partnership. I'd also like to recognize our trustees, Ravenel Curry and Nathan Saint-Amand, and MI's distinguished president emeritus Larry Mone, who are also with us here tonight. Thank you.

I am honored and delighted to be joined on stage by Lee Zeldin, an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve who served with distinction in the New York State Senate and most recently in Congress, where he developed a reputation as a dogged defender of his Long Island constituents. And last year, Mr. Zeldin did something few thought possible. He made a general election for governor of New York State highly competitive.

In doing so, he offered a fresh new approach to expanding the conservative coalition, and he may have changed the state's political map for years to come. While Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by more than 20 percentage points in 2020, Mr. Zeldin narrowly lost the 2022 gubernatorial election by a mere six points, receiving the highest share of the vote for a Republican statewide candidate in 20 years.

In New York City, he doubled the vote of the last GOP gubernatorial candidate from 15 to 30 percent, making deep inroads in diverse middle- and working-class neighborhoods throughout the outer boroughs. Mr. Zeldin has graciously agreed to talk with us about his race and the future of New York politics—about whether New York, the bluest of blue states could become purple once again.

So first, a quick question. There is a pattern among Republican governors who win in predominantly democratic states. Think of Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan in Maryland, Phil Scott in Vermont. The script is typically, "I am going to be your bulwark against an aggressively left-wing legislature, and I'm also going to distance myself from a national Republican party," that many folks in these states—independents, moderates—think of as too extreme as well.

You, however, are someone who's always been a pretty rock-ribbed conservative. You were someone who distinguished yourself. Though you were from the Northeast, though you're from a suburban district, you were certainly not considered someone who was ever apologizing for being on the political right.

So how did you think about that as you were gearing up to run statewide? When you were looking at that, call it the Baker, Hogan, Scott model versus your record, who you are, how you've approached your political career. How did you think about that?

Lee Zeldin: Over the course of these elections, I would get asked are you this or that every two years. “Are you a Tea Party Republican, or are you a John Boehner Republican?” Then are they asking me, "Are you a Ted Cruz Republican or a Pete King Republican?" At the beginning of this campaign, I would get asked, "Are you a Charlie Baker Republican or are you a Ron DeSantis Republican?"

It's very important to be your own person. And there are ways that Republican candidates seek to earn the support of Democrats, not by doing a good job explaining why you're a Republican, why you have the views that you do, but acting like a Democrat-lite. And it leaves the voters with a choice between a Democrat or a Democrat-lite.

Now, it might help you in winning more votes from Democrats, but the problem is that you are really alienating many in your own base. They want to support someone who is going to be courageous in saving New York. They want somebody who's going to be bold with their ideas and their policies to be able to save our state. There are people on city streets who are being harmed and threatened, and they want to know that people in power are actually going to do something to secure our streets and our subways.

We have young kids trapped in multi-generational poverty, parents who want their kids to have access to a good-quality school. You can't just talk about this from 30,000 feet. What are you going to do about it? And promoting school choice, and lifting the cap on charter schools, and having tax credits for school choice and educational savings accounts. Talk about it from the substance.

Yesterday there was a state of the state address that took place up in Albany. For any of you who watched it as I did, there were topics that were briefly touched on where, if you were there giving that speech for this governor, you would've delivered the substance that's needed to actually save this state, but instead you didn't get it. By saying that we need to look at bail.

And then that's the end of it. We need to feel safe. That's the end of the conversation. What you would do if you were standing up there is saying that what we need to do to save New York is to declare a crime state of emergency and suspend cashless bail and less is more and raise the age, and HALT Act and the discovery law changes.

We need to give judges discretion to weigh dangerousness. We need district attorneys to do their job. DA stands for district attorney, not defense attorney, and I'm going to send a message to the rest of the district attorneys by removing the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg.

Now, that's what I would've said if I was there yesterday. And I think that when you get to the heart of this question of what kind of a Republican can in fact serve as governor of the state of New York, it's someone who's true to themselves. It's one who's out there earning the support by being themself, and understanding that in order to actually save this state, what people want is boldness and courage and substance.

And I think that there's a lot of Democrats and Independents who might even shock Republicans by being willing to vote for that Republican who's showing that backbone, that desire to restore balance and common sense to be able to get the job done.

Reihan Salam: You've had a lot of time now to think about the race. Think about the strategies that you used, you and your campaign used to try to overcome this very significant Democratic advantage in the state. It turns out that there was a very big Democratic advantage nationally as well that you were pushing against. Are there things that, in hindsight, you would've done differently? Are there constituencies that actually move more than you expected? Are there places where you think that you, your campaign, the state party might have invested to yield a different result?

Lee Zeldin: Even though there was no red wave nationally, a red wave hit New York. A red wave hit Florida. And why that happened and it didn't happen through the rest of the country is a question that should motivate all of us, if we could go back in time to do a better job convincing Republicans nationally to deliver a red wave across the country.

Why is it that a red wave hit New York, but it didn't hit the rest of the country? The Dobbs decision is something that gets referenced. The Dobbs decision was national. You can be on offense or defense, but sometimes these issues pop, and you try to choose neutral. Sometimes neutral's not an option. Dobbs decision happened.

And here in New York, we couldn't just ignore it, and we addressed it on our terms. Nationally, if you want to create a red wave, the wave isn't created by your success in being opposed to the other side.

In 1994, Haley Barbour, chair of the RNC, Newt Gingrich, wanting to become the next Speaker of the House. They weren't just saying, "Bill Clinton's bad. The Democratic party is bad. Vote for me." And then therefore a red wave hit nationally. There was a contract for America.

There was one that the candidates knew what was in it. The media knew what was in it. The voters wanted it. They had their favorite components of it. It wasn't just, "Bill Clinton's bad, the Democratic party is bad, so vote for me."

If you want people to open up their heart and trust in the faith, the next-level enthusiasm and momentum and motivation, that effort that you need to actually win and create a wave. It's not about what you're against, it's about what you're for. And if we could go back in time and change one thing, I would have tried to do a much better job convincing my colleagues nationally that there is no red wave coming unless—As I traveled around New York state, I said, "I am able to guarantee you that we will win this race as long as all of us do absolutely everything in our power, telling everyone we know, all in, to get our message working until the polls close on election night."

Now, we did that in New York. And our rallies over the course of the last few days, last couple weeks, some of these rallies would not just get into the thousands, they would get into the many thousands.

One time, I had a chance to see a Lynyrd Skynyrd set standing on the stage, and it was a different perspective, not just of the stage. I enjoyed the perspective of the audience. I was looking out at this crowd filled with hardcore Lynyrd Skynyrd fans, and there was something different about their faces and their body language. It wasn't quite normal.

It was you're in some other zone. When I was doing these rallies the last few days, the last couple weeks of the campaign, and I'm on the stage and I'm looking out at the crowd, it wasn't normal.

There's some grown men in here who maybe haven't cried too much in their adult life. Then we have people like Boehner, who probably would be crying just to see me up here giving this speech with all of you.

When a grown man cries for the first time in a really long time, and in that cry they realize that they're crying and they're shocked, they then start crying even more. There are people in New York state who hadn't had a chance to believe in a long time. And what they realized at the end of this campaign was that we have a real shot.

And then that emotion of realizing how long it's been since the last time in New York that we were able to believe in New York, that we had a chance to save this state, got them even more emotional.

If nationally, we were telling people not just Joe Biden's bad, the Democratic party is bad, but convincing them this is what you are going to get by electing a Republican Senate and a Republican House. This is what we are going to do to save America.

I think we had an opportunity to get to that next level. We talk about plenty of other things, about ballot harvesting and early voting, and the list goes on. But if you're only allowed me to name just one thing, and it's not just about looking backwards, it's a lesson learned for going forward.

Waves don't just happen. If we catch anyone on a board before the polls close trying to ride on a wave, knock him off the board. No one's allowed to ride a wave in. The waves are created by working. To create the wave by telling people not just what you're against, but what you're for. And I think it was the biggest missed opportunity of 2022.

Reihan Salam: One way of putting this is that you're saying that the fact that the national party did not have a coherent, consistent, clear, practical, actionable message is something that weighed down a lot of talented candidates in districts around the country.

One thing that I find interesting about that is that there's another line of argument, which is that the problem for folks who are not part of the dominant political coalition in a state like New York or California is the excessive nationalization of our politics. That is, there used to be a time when you wouldn't vote straight ticket. You might vote one way for Congress, but here in New York City you might vote for Rudy Giuliani, you might vote for Mike Bloomberg, but maybe you'll vote for a Democrat for Congress.

Your view seems to be that, look, the nationalization is here, and therefore if you want to win statewide, you need a more competent and effective national party and national message. Is that a fair characterization of your view?

Lee Zeldin: Well, certainly when you're running for a federal office, the race is nationalized. If you're running for state office, in many respects our message was localized. We would talk at times about New York City's specific issues, at times about New York’s state issues. Sometimes it's all intertwined.

When people are asking me a question about migrants coming to New York City, what are you going to do about it? The solution isn't just about what does a blue city or red city mayor do? What does a blue state and red state governor do? Because quite frankly, if all the blue state and red state officials underneath the federal level were all working together to solve it, it actually wouldn't solve it. It's impossible because you have to do some things at the federal level to actually secure the entry process.

There's a level of nationalization that infiltrates any level of campaigning, and it has to be really frustrating if you're running for district court judge, and you get swept out of office despite being the very best district court judge in the history of district court judges.

Reihan Salam: And the issues in Albany, the issues at the local level, they're different than national issues. And in theory, you'd think you ought to be voting on the basis of those issues over which you have authority.

Lee Zeldin: Sure, absolutely. And I would say that the way our politics is, nationalization of these campaigns to a certain extent is determined before your race even starts. If there was a red wave nationally, we win the race. I mean to think that we did as well as we did with there being no red wave nationally, can you imagine if there was one?

If you look in New York state, 22 percent of New York voters are Republican. We got 46, 47 percent of the vote. There are 3.3 million more Democrats than Republicans in New York, 3.3 million. Only lost by about 300,000. We think that there are these tribes, and people are in their corner. There's a red corner and there's a blue corner.

But a whole lot of average people care about their family, their life, their job. They're going through a routine. When they turn on the news, they actually just want to know what they missed that day. They just want to know what the news is, and there shouldn't be some great mystery as to how to improve a business model to capture more of an audience.

Well, how could we do a better job of just telling people what they missed that day while they're focusing on their job? I think that New York, even though it is the bluest of blue, there are a whole lot of New Yorkers who just want what is best for themselves, their family, their community, their state, and their country.

And there are people who want balance and common sense, and they realize that with the one-party Democrat rule, super majority Democrat assembly and senate, the way to save New York, the way to change the trajectory of the state, the way to reverse the outmigration. And if you want to enact the largest tax cut in the history of the state, if you want to make our streets safe and improve the quality of education in our schools, well you know what, even though I'm a Democrat, I've always voted Democrat my entire life.

This year I'm going to vote Republican because I want to save New York. And I think that there's a lesson to be learned when you look back four years from now. You have to believe. And believing is going to get you about halfway there out of the gate, and if you don't believe you're dead before you even launched the campaign.

Reihan Salam: This is a parochial question from a lifelong Brooklynite. So you hit around 30 percent of the vote in the five boroughs. If you had the resources, what were the things that you would've done to get that a bit higher, to get that to 35? Because first of all, you just made huge gains, but were there marginal gains to be had if you could've had the funds, if you had the door-knockers? Were there neighborhoods you would've targeted? I'm just curious, what was the thing that frustrated you in those last few days where you felt like you know could have squeezed out a bit more?

Lee Zeldin: In one respect, they were cramming for a final exam on the other side. They were not running a great campaign, but the get-out-the-vote operation at the end, they were getting the vote out. And it may not work for people who don't like these different politicians, but for Democrat voters deciding whether or not they need to come out, they saw Bill and Hillary, Joe and Jill, Kamala, Obama. I mean I was getting hit from Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Marisa Tomei, John Leguizamo, Cher, they're all coming after me.

Over the course of the last week, you see the Working Families Party getting engaged. You see some key labor unions getting engaged. Sometimes they say with these elections, it'd be really interesting if, whether or not you would've won, if there was just one more week.

Reihan Salam: You saw police officers in the subway. It's a nice change of pace.

Lee Zeldin: Yeah, this year actually would've been a better question of what would've happened if the election was one week earlier? On our side, the primary resulted in me spending a lot of time outside of the city. I wasn't really able to very heavily engage New York City until we got the June 28th primary behind us.

I would say that for building up for 2026, instead of having a candidate going all in, busting their tail to get 30 percent of the vote in New York City, you need the Republican candidate to be able to get 35 percent without it requiring so much of their time.

There's no way to win this race if you don't get 30 percent. We got 30 percent. But the problem was, I had to spend so much time and effort to get the 30 percent, where over the course of these last few months, I wasn't going to other places where there were a lot of votes there, too, to be able to hit those marks.

I would say that we need to build. Focus on the New York City Council races. I fear that those who are in charge right now, some of the policies that they enact might be doing their job to help our cause four years with bad governance. I hope I'm wrong. But our side needs to build up over the course of the next few years, structurally. We have to get into these communities when you're not asking for their votes. And I feel like a lot of our efforts are showing up in the 11th hour. Can I add one other thing, too?

Reihan Salam: Of course.

Lee Zeldin: Briefly is, and you're showing up in the black community, the Asian community, the Hispanic community, you don't show up and say, "I love black people. Vote for me. I love Asian people. Vote for me. I love Hispanic people. Vote for me. You're pandering."

Show up and say, "We need to improve the safety on these streets. Here's how. We need to improve the quality of education in our kids' schools, here's how." So what we do to bridge this over the next four years is to show up and show up with substance, not to pander. And make sure that when you're actually asking for their vote four years from now, you've actually built a relationship.

And you don't feel like you're just some Johnny-come-lately, you're going to show up right before the election, ask for their vote, and then they fear that once the election's over, they're never going to see you again.

Reihan Salam: Tell me if this sounds right. You did give serious consideration to running for chair of the Republican National Committee, and what I'm hearing from you is this idea that we need a 50-state strategy. We need to actually play in places where we're not expecting to win necessarily, but we want to have a real party apparatus in these places where we haven't come to play before, because that can pay dividends. Is that a fair characterization?

Lee Zeldin: Yes, and I would add one other point about this city example. It's not just about the votes you get in the city. And when the votes you get in the city are every vote you earn, it's actually two votes, because it's one less vote for your opponent and one more for you.

When I travel through the rest of the state, a lot of my campaigning, you're earning one vote because it's somebody who's either staying home or they're voting for you, but they're your supporter. But where you could flip a Democrat vote, in a way you'd say it's two. You lose by 300,000, if you flip 150,000, it's not that you have to go out there and flip 300,000. Right?

Here's another thing: the media market isn't just New York City. Now, these reporters inside of New York City, they're not going to spend their day traveling all throughout the suburbs. But what we did was that we would show up in New York City every day. We would hit an issue that they have to cover in a place that's all too convenient.

I'm not saying, "Hey, I'm in your media market. I want you to drive an hour and 20 minutes to be there at 9:20 in the morning." I'm showing up to right where you work, right where you live, hitting an issue because somebody last night was stabbed at this subway station, and they were murdered. And it was the fourth knife attack in the last 10 hours, and they have to cover it.

Now, you'd say, "Well, for the people who live inside of New York City, this is good." You're driving the conversation of the day. They know that you're out with solutions to make the city safe and the experience of riding on the subway safer, but there's something much bigger than that.

The New York City media market covers two thirds of New York's population, two thirds of New York's congressional districts. It covers congressional districts in Connecticut. It covers congressional districts in New Jersey.

Now a status quo election, New York sends six Republicans in our congressional delegation to DC. The result is that there would've been 218 House Democrats and 217 House Republicans, but instead we won New York 1, New York 2, New York, 3, 4, 11, 17, 19, all inside the New York City media market.

We came within a point of winning New York 18. By the way, what we were doing in Syracuse helped to win New York 22, that's a big Biden district. We end up sending 11 Republicans down to DC. So now you're looking at it from a national standpoint.

You're looking at this at a national standpoint. These cities all have suburbs. You want to win Pennsylvania? You can't ignore Philadelphia. Oh, Philadelphia, we're going to get crushed. What's the point of spending all this time inside of Philadelphia? That we get 10 percent instead of 5 percent? No, I'm going to spend my time elsewhere.

It's not just about the votes inside of Philadelphia. The media market is hitting all of these other suburban voters, and if you're not inside of Philadelphia, you're not driving the message of the people who are starting their day with their morning news, ending their day with their evening news, and getting called up that the Republicans are fighting the good fight there. "They were in Philadelphia again."

No, actually what happens is quite the opposite. The morning news and the evening news is about how Barack Obama's back again. It's his fourth visit to Philadelphia in the last three weeks. Well, this isn't a turf that they just own and it should be nationwide.

Conservatives need to get inside of the cities, not just to flip votes inside of the cities, but to drive the messaging into the suburbs because even if they don't live in the city, they care about the city.

We did it in New York, and I would say it was proven to work in New York. If we were not spending all of this time in New York City during this campaign, we don't win some of these suburban districts. And by the way, not just in New York, we've even flipped some Jersey seats inside the New York City media market.

Reihan Salam: You mentioned before outreach to ethnic minority voters. What I'm taking away from this is that you need to think about the indirect effects of campaigning these areas. But also, part of what I'm hearing is that you can't treat certain areas as no-go areas. You can't assume that some constituency, some communities are unreachable. That if you bring that attitude, it is fundamentally a defeatist attitude. What you need to do is imagine that everyone could be persuadable. Is that how you look at it?

Lee Zeldin: There is no better area to go to than an area where some high-paid political consultant is telling you to absolutely not go to. Why would I go to a subway station in Morris Heights after a knife attack, where by the way, somebody at the end of the press conference who was listening, I went up to say hi. The four of the cameras were rolling. I said, "Hello."

I didn't know what he was going to say. I was just trying to be friendly before I left. He said, "In this area, we've given up on the government. If somebody wants to fight me, you just tell me when and where. You bring your knife. I'll bring my knife, and we'll settle it amongst ourselves."

I went the day before the election to Co-Op City in the Bronx. I don't know the last time that they've seen a Republican in Co-Op City. They definitely don't see a Republican in Co-Op City the day before the election. Now people say, "Why is it that with Democratic policies that these people keep voting Democrat?"

It's because the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. It's not that they're in love with Democrats. And they're not going to assume that you are any better. They have a problem with Democrats, but they believe that Republicans are worse. What are you going to do about it? Well, show up. You know what I found? They were waiting with open arms, except for Co-Op City by the way, the day before the election.

They weren't so happy to see me there. But I found through many of these stops that they were waiting there with open arms. And the engagement, it was easy, it was productive, and it was just filled with this fertile electoral ground that you can't be waiting until the end of a race to go feed.

What you really need to be doing is through for four years be pouring water on these relationships and continuing to build it, build trust where they're voting Republican because they're not happy with the Democrats, and they believe that if they vote Republican their lives will get better.

Reihan Salam: One early indication that you were running a different kind of campaign with a different kind of energy was when you went on the popular radio program, The Breakfast Club. This was a time when it was early days. I think there was a lot of skepticism about the kind of campaign you could run. But that was a segment, if I recall correctly, that just kept getting extended and extended and extended.

And you're dealing with folks who did not necessarily share your ideological priors. But I wonder, if you could tell the audience a little bit about that experience and whether or not you think it paid some dividends to go before that audience?

Lee Zeldin: Oh yeah, no, it definitely did. I still get good feedback about the Breakfast Club interview. It was supposed to be 20 minutes, and I don't remember how long it lasted. It was definitely over an hour. And DJ Envy, one of the three actually had to leave right before the last question to go pick up his kid. We were in the middle of live recording and he's like, "I don't know when you all are going to end. I'm out of here."

The one thing that never actually ended up happening much to the disappointment of some, back in 2008, I ran for Congress and I was on a station, Party 105, DJ Vick Latino. And he did like a 20-minute interview, and it was probably one of the most boring interviews they've ever had on their radio station. It's not a radio station for a political conversation.

And about 20 minutes in, Vick Latino says, "I live in your district, but I have to admit, I'm not sure whether or not I'm going to vote for you, so we're going to have to have a sing-off."

I do not have a good voice. I did join chorus to pick up girls in the 10th grade, but it wasn't for my singing voice. So they start playing the intro beat to a song called, “Big Pimpin'”, by Jay-Z. Now listen, I'm 27 years old at the time. And in my defense, as a 27-year-old, I knew the words to two different versions of this song.

There's a version of this song that you can play on the radio, and there's a version of the song that you cannot play on the radio. And as this long intro is going on, my inner political consultant is telling me, "Whatever you do, do not go with it." As soon as the intro was up and it was time to share the lyrics, I wrapped, “Big Pimpin'” by Jay-Z live on Party 105. And after it was over, my team was saying, "How can you do that?"

That's not very congressional, as if I just ruined the campaign. Well, listen, we're pulling 41 points down anyway. There's not much to lose. It actually proved to be one of the best moments of that campaign: volunteer recruitment, low-dollar donation, word of mouth, creating a buzz.

Just showing up at Breakfast Club to be willing to answer any question that they had on any topic.

Reihan Salam: You're willing to be grilled?

Lee Zeldin: Totally, he could have asked me whatever he wanted. The only regret by some of my team was that they were wondering whether or not I was going to be busting out “Big Pimpin'” by Jay-Z. Now, this is a little different. I'm in my fourth term in Congress, and I'm now a candidate for governor. So you could debate whether or not that's a good idea. And the other thing is I do a pretty mean Shaggy impression.

Actually, someone on the team was hoping that that would get out there. So during this conversation it was supposed to be 20 minutes, we're now passing the one-hour mark. And there's a lot of people listening to The Breakfast Club.

And by the way, if you are running for governor of this state of New York and you are unwilling to go there and answer whatever questions they have, you don't belong as governor of the state of New York because I, unlike Kathy Hochul, who in August said that I should get on a bus and move to Florida. She actually said it out loud.

For me, I was running to be the governor for all New Yorkers.

Reihan Salam: Throughout your campaign, you were laser-focused on crime and public safety. Now, that was as a statewide candidate, you've also served in Congress for some time. You really were the majority maker in the House. You won't say that, but I will.

When you're thinking about what Republicans in Congress, what conservatives in Congress can do to shape urban violence, to combat urban violence, what do you think is appropriate? Now, of course, we're Federalists. We believe in state and local control, but do you think that there are things that Congress can and should do to help reverse that tide?

Lee Zeldin: First off, showing up. We don't show up. By the way we do field hearings. Why aren't you doing a field hearing on crime back in Morris Heights or anywhere else throughout the five boroughs? I feel like Congress's functions are split primarily amongst two parts: oversight and legislation.

From the oversight standpoint, you can try to get creative. A lot of the oversight investigations that are being launched right now aren't necessarily as much about oversight over other levels of government. It's more about oversight over this executive branch.

I would say from the legislative standpoint, finding ways to deal with particular challenges that are trickling down to the local level. We're seeing a strain right now on shelters, on education, on housing. What's Congress going to do to help secure our border?

The debate over border security, over the Remain in Mexico policy over catch and release of supportive Customs and Border patrol, of incentives and rewards that are encouraging people to enter this country illegally. While Congress has a really important role on oversight and legislation. What are we going to do from the crime standpoint as it relates to fentanyl and crystal meth and other abuse that's taking place? What can Congress do?

I would say that wherever you can find that overlap, that it trickles down, but ultimately a lot of my approach towards crime is from the bottom up. A lot of it has to do with elected officials at the most local level speaking up. There is a massive anti-Semitism problem on the streets of New York City, and how many politicians are silent about it altogether? And we've lowered our standards to the point where if they put a tweet out, we're like, "Oh, thank God. Look at this progress." They posted a tweet.

We have anti-Asian hate, where people are not just being targeted with a little bit of violence, we're talking about being pushed in front of an oncoming subway car, stabbed to death in Lower Manhattan, beaten to the death on the streets with a hammer.

We have district attorneys getting elected to office on pledges to represent the criminals over the law-abiding New Yorkers. And where's the rest of the politicians to speak up on behalf of those who feel like they're not in charge of their streets anymore?

You're concerned about lack of money in the MTA? You want to impose congestion pricing? Well, how about you get more money in the MTA by improving the experience? More people enjoy the experience, more people want to ride the subways again. You want a few hundred million more? Well, enforce fare-jumping. People should actually pay.

And if for some reason you're making some argument that there are individuals who can't afford to ride the subway, well, you can still get them a card that they're swiping. Everyone needs to be using the turnstile, and those metrics are important. You need to know how many people are coming on, what the right timetable it is for usage. And when the subways are going to be in need of changes in schedules.

If you were to ask me, really, what do I think should be done by elected officials? Yeah, Congress has some stuff they could do: showing up in the oversight, doing the field hearings and some of the legislative issues, some of the challenges that trickle down to the local level. But crime fighting starts from the bottom up.

And quite frankly, I don't think that Congress can do any better job of securing the streets of New York than at the city level they can do themselves. The last I would say though is this isn't just about the city. When Eric Adams says to Albany that we need to give judges discretion to weigh dangerousness, not only does he get stonewalled, they personally attack him.

They'll go on social media and Danny O’Donnell, a white liberal Manhattan Democrat assemblyman, went after New York City's black mayor to suggest that the reason why Eric Adams is calling for judges to have discretion, suggesting that Eric Adams is racist. He actually posted this on social media.

He said, "Dangerousness is often code for black." Now, Eric Adams was elected due to a swing on the crime issue, in my opinion. When he started his race, crime was coming right off the George Floyd murder. You have the riots taking place, the BLM protests. Crime was different in June of 2020 than it was in June of 2021.

By June of 2021, now crime is back up there at the list, but it's because people want to support our men and women in law enforcement. They want these streets safer. Now, Eric Adams knows this, and he gets a mouthful, I'm sure by some of you, all the time. Listen, you need to be courageous. You need to stand up for us. And stand up to those politicians in Albany, want to support Kathy Hochul, she's in your party. Okay, I get it. But you know what? The election's over. Now you have to do the right thing.

We have to have his back when he's willing to do the right thing because he's getting personally assaulted with these attacks by people in his own party. And we also have to challenge him to stand up, because he doesn't get some free pass. The honeymoon's over. Sorry, Mayor Adams. We served together for four years. We've stayed in touch since. We get along well. His honeymoon is over. He had a honeymoon, and it was extended.

It was extended because of the different factors like I told you. But now the election's behind us. I want Eric Adams to fiercely and consistently be out there publicly standing there defending us to be telling Albany what they need to do. Amend Raise the Age. Overhaul cashless bail, and you know what? The rest of us then have a responsibility to do, the rest of us have responsibility to have Eric Adams's back.

If he does the right thing, I am all in, in having his back. If he doesn't, we can't have his back because the honeymoon's over. We have to challenge him, and we have to push him to do it. He's in a really tough position. But quite frankly, the future of the Big Apple is depending on him stepping up more than ever before. With all due respect, we need Eric Adams to step up more. And it's just because, hey, you signed up to be the mayor of New York City.

Reihan Salam: Before we turn to questions from the audience, I have one more question for you. It's more of a policy question. You were very focused, in addition to crime and public safety and public order, you were very focused on the quality-of-life and cost-of-living challenges that have contributed so mightily to the outmigration crisis facing the state, to the fact that there's so many families at the bottom of the economic ladder who are finding it exceedingly difficult to climb.

Now one big driver of that, many in this room would argue, is housing costs. And Governor Hochul has seemed to make the case that she's going to be really focused on this. She's going to be focused on building more housing. She also seems to be on the cusp of moving toward more stringent rent regulations and what have you. I wonder, for you, as someone who is a conservative who cares deeply about economic freedom, I wonder, what would your playbook be on housing?

Because in addition to being someone who cares about economic freedom, you're also someone who represented a suburban Long Island district where there are a lot of folks who are very concerned about the idea of rolling back land-use regulations and what have you. They're very concerned about seeing their neighborhoods change dramatically. I wonder, how do you balance those considerations when you think about the yearning need we have in the city and the region for more housing?

Lee Zeldin: Well, first off, I oppose universal rent control. If it passed, if I was governor, I'd veto it. I do believe that New York City needs some type of form of 421-a to be able to come back. We need to make use of a whole lot of empty apartments right now—into the tens of thousands. Talk about building new stuff, what are we going to do to make sure that we're utilizing what we have here currently?

The governor's State of the State, where she was putting out her housing plan, she was essentially declaring war on the suburbs. We lead the entire country in outmigration. I said for months during this campaign that, in order to actually reverse us leading the entire country in population loss, we need a governor who understands why it is that we lead the country in outmigration.

And I asked Kathy Hochul to finish this sentence: New York leads the nation in population loss because . . . She would never answer it. There was one time that a reporter in Binghamton Airport asked her this question, and she was stumbling all over this. I brought it up again at the one debate that we had. I wish we had five debates, 10 debates. We had one.

I brought it up there. The reason why New York leads the entire nation in population loss is because New Yorkers look at other states. They believe their money will go further, they will feel safer. They will live life freer in Florida, Texas, the Carolinas, Tennessee or elsewhere. Why do businesses leave? Why aren't businesses coming to New York?

It's not a head-scratcher. We have a bad business climate. They go to Texas, you don't have to offer them bribes in order to get them to come. They come because a good tax environment, a good regulatory environment, and you have state agencies supporting business as opposed to prosecuting them.

We've got to the point in New York where businesses will only come to New York when the state is essentially offering them massive bribes. We're not offering them any of the other stuff, and we have a bad business climate. So when you assault the suburbs the way Kathy Hochul proposed, you have people who already have a reason to leave. They already have family members who have left.

Maybe they were already thinking about leaving. You're putting them over the top. I come from a town called Brookhaven. When I'm down in Washington, DC people would say, "Well, where's the first congressional district of New York?" I would say that I have the district with the Hamptons in it. "Oh, yeah, I know where that is." I live in a small town just west of the Hamptons called Brookhaven. "Never heard of it." Even though the population has 500,000 people in it.

Now, Kathy Hochul is the governor. She's not the town supervisor. She's not a county executive. She is not a monarch. She has no other position other than the governor of the State of New York. But what she's proposing to do is replace local control with Hochul control. And people who like the identity of their suburbs, she's proposing as part of her housing plan to change the suburbs from Albany, to tell the people in these local areas what their suburbs have to look like.

I actually emphatically oppose out of the gate her housing plan that she put out seeking to change this zoning. It is a bad idea. Inside of the city, the reality is that we do need more housing. And I would also offer for some people who live in the city who want to find additional housing opportunities, there are opportunities outside of the city.

And I can introduce you to someone who wakes up every single day, drives 20 minutes to the Ronkonkoma Train station, rides the subway into work, gets in the subway to get to the office from there. Does it early in the morning, gets back home late at night and has kids at home, and they've been doing it for a really, really long time.

The idea that you are entitled to stay inside of New York City and that in some cases you're able to squat inside of your property to the point where you're telling the owner of the building that if you want to get me out, you have to pay me $80,000. Wait. You want me to pay you $80,000 to get out of a property that I own?

I think that there just needs to be a lot more reality in how we approach this, and it's everything from getting away from this idea of, "Oh no, we need more rent control. We need universal rent control all throughout the entire state. And we need to take over zoning in the suburbs."

Now, Albany is not going to get this right any better than just having local control, and also people understanding that this sense of entitlement where you can squat and you have to get bribed to get out of these spaces. I think we're a bit inside-out in our housing approach here in the state.

Reihan Salam: Thank you very much.

That brings us to the end of our formal program, everyone. Please join me in thanking Mr. Zeldin.

Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

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