Republicans push Gov. Hochul to accept Lee Zeldin debate

Allies of Republican nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin are keeping the heat on Gov. Kathy Hochul and her ongoing refusal to say when and where she will debate her Long Island challenger ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

“She has no responses to the big questions Lee will poss on issues most important to New Yorkers, first and foremost crime,” said state Sen. George Borello (R-Chautauqua) responding to The Post’s Page 1 editorial calling her out for not committing to debate dates.

“She is likely concerned about having to engage on the highly questionable ethical issues,” Borello, a co-chair of Zeldin’s campaign, added in reference to the latest revelations about alleged pay-to-play schemes involving the governor.

Hochul said a month ago she would engage Zeldin at least two times in a debate — but she has yet to make good on the vow despite increasingly fierce criticism as election officials get ready to start sending out absentee ballots on Sept. 23.

Her opponent has already accepted invitations from CBS2 and PIX11 to rhetorically rumble at a date to be determined.

Hochul has yet to accept any invitations to debate Zeldin.
J. Messerschmidt/NY Post

Some political watchers say the ongoing delay reminds them of past election cycles when disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — her predecessor who tapped her for the lieutenant governor role from which she ascended last year — would similarly keep his opponents at arms length until a critical mass of criticism from the GOP and the media forced his hand.

“Cuomo basically pulled the same stunt on me and didn’t agree until late and then insisted on the minor party candidates being on stage,” former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the 2014 GOP nominee, said of his time on-stage with the likes of Cuomo and “Rent Is Too Damn High” standard bearer Jimmy McMillan.

“It took weeks of public pressure,” chimed in Marc Molinaro, who had the GOP ballot line against Cuomo in 2018.

Polls in recent weeks have shown Hochul with a lead ranging from the mid-single digits to more than 20 points while enjoying a big fundraising edge over Zeldin.

Experts say it only makes political sense for Hochul to hold off on sparring in-person against Zeldin — who has called for five debates — despite his ongoing taunts and efforts to debate on his terms.

Zeldin has already accepted invitations from CBS2 and PIX11 to debate.
Lev Radin/

“It’s always in the interest of the challenger to call for debates and it’s usually never in the interest of the incumbent. Challengers need the air time to launch their critiques and the opportunity to force uncomfortable moments, and incumbents don’t generally gain much from acceding,” said political consultant Jake Dilemani.

Zeldin’s running mate Alison Esposito, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, told reporters at a Manhattan press conference Friday that if Hochul is not yet in the mood to debate Zeldin — then Democratic Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado ought to face off with his own rival sometime soon.

“Antonio Delgado — Will you debate me?” Esposito asked. “Come debate me if the governor is too afraid to debate the congressman.”

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