In electoral terms, 2022 was not the best year for New York Democrats. They lost four House seats to Republicans, who also ran their best gubernatorial race since 2002, causing Pennsylvania to vote to the left of the Big Apple for the first time in an executive election. What is the motive behind the shift? Crime.
Lee Zeldin, the Republican who challenged Governor Kathy Hochul, based his campaign almost exclusively on this issue, which evidently paid off. While Andrew Cuomo won re-election by 23% in 2018, the incumbent, Hochul, barely won by 6.4%. Zeldin's influence helped carry George Santos, Anthony D'Esposito, Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro into Congress, flipping four Democratic seats.
Zeldin criticized rising crime rates in the state's big cities and associated them with friendly bail laws that allowed dangerous individuals to get out of prison early, which worked in the suburbs.
This combo led to the New York gubernatorial election being closer than usual, with some polls at the time even briefly predicting a technical tie between the two candidates.
The trend of voters prioritizing crime had already been seen in the 2021 mayoral election when Eric Adams and his talk of security took hold in New York City.
Kathy Hochul's attempt to reduce crime in New York City
With these results in mind, Hochul is trying to gain ground on this topic. In early May, she signed legislation toughening the state's bail laws and asserted that security should not be just a Republican bastion at the ballot box.
"Individuals running next year for Congress on down can talk about how Democrats take public safety very seriously. This is not a Republican-owned issue. It's something that we're the ones leading on. We're the ones solving the problems and not just standing on the sidelines taking potshots," she told the press.
We won’t rest until every parent has peace of mind when their kids are walking home from school.
We won’t rest until we end the scourge of gun violence.
We won’t rest until every New Yorker has the peaceful community they deserve.
Together, we'll work to keep New Yorkers safe. pic.twitter.com/Ph7VFOXX4j
— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) May 3, 2023
The new ruling will give judges greater authority to decide whether or not a person can be detained on bail. This would be the third modification since Democrats passed a bail bill in 2019.
As reported by POLITICO, the final result was more moderate than some Republicans or even Adams, who still endorsed the governor, wanted.
"The governor is going to claim a win for public safety even though the law expressly prohibits judges from taking a defendant's dangerousness into account during the pretrial process," Republican state Sen. Jake Ashby said. "If she tries to spin that as judicial discretion, she will be embracing a level of shamelessness previously reserved only for her predecessor," he added.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law criticized the legislation. Ames Grawert, its lead attorney, confessed to being "disappointed by the Legislature's continued focus on revising bail reform to the exclusion of other policies that can make our communities safer."
The GOP plans to refocus on crime to defend its seats and make new gains in 2024. Ed Cox, chairman of the state Republican Party, said Democrats "are not going to be able to hide on this issue" next year when all 26 House seats are on the ballot.