SARATOGA SPRINGS — U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, who is campaigning to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2022, will support North Country U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik for House GOP conference chairperson, saying he believes having her in that role will be good for upstate New York.
“I believe this region and this state would be better served if Elise became conference chair,” Zeldin said during a press availability outside the Prime Steakhouse at Saratoga National Golf Course, where he had lunch Monday with Saratoga County Republican leaders. “Elise is someone I consider a friend and who I believe would be an outstanding conference chair.”
Stefanik, R-Saratoga, a fourth-term congresswoman representing the 21st Congressional District, is seeking to replace Wyoming U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who has lost the support of rank-and-file Republican House members over her open criticism of former President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. A vote on removing Cheney could come as soon as Wednesday, with a vote on new leadership a few days after that.
Stefanik’s bid has the support of top House GOP leadership as well as Trump, who again issued a statement of support on Monday.
Zeldin, like Stefanik, is a conservative and voted against Trump’s two impeachments and has continued to support Trump since he left office. They were both first elected to Congress in 2014. Zeldin suggested having Stefanik in such a high position in leadership would be beneficial — particularly if Republicans are able to take control of the House in the 2020 mid-term elections.
“She has been fighting hard for this region and her congressional district,” he said. “As we look toward to the future, Elise Stefanik serving in higher capacities as the No. 3 in the House Republican conference, I believe would not just be in the best interests of the conference, but in the best interests of this region.”
Stefanik’s enormous district includes the northern half of Saratoga County, which is heavily Republican, and she lives in the county. County GOP leaders also have high hopes for Stefanik in senior leadership.
“Elise has done a fantastic job through her tenure in Congress; for the country, for NY-21, and for Saratoga County,” said county Republican Chairman Carl Zeilman. “She has worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. She has been a stalwart and a dedicated fighter for Republican values. In her new leadership role, we are confident that Elise will build upon her established record of results.”
Zeilman, who attended the lunch with Zeldin, said he’s known Zeldin for years and they share things in common, including military service. “We were excited to host him here in Saratoga County,” he said.
The county Republicans are still going through the pre-endorsement process, but Zeilman said Zeldin will receive “very serious consideration.”
Zeldin, who represents outer Long Island’s First Congressional District, announced his run for governor last month and said he has quickly raised more than $2.5 million. His campaign says he already has the backing of more than enough county Republican and Conservative chairmen to secure those parties’ nominations to run against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo next year. Zeldin said he plans “a 62-county strategy,” and that’s one of the reasons he has begun campaigning so early. Even with backing of GOP leadership, Zeldin would still have to run in a Republican Party primary if another Republican seeks the nomination as well.
“You look at the stakes, they’ve never been higher,” Zeldin said.
Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran against Cuomo in 2014, and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran for governor in 2018, are also considering bids for the Republican nomination. Stefanik at least considered a bid, one of the reasons Saratoga County Republicans haven’t moved more quickly to endorse Zeldin, the most conservative of the known candidates.
Cuomo is expected to seek a fourth four-term next year, even though several controversies and investigations are swirling around him. Zeldin cited some of those problems facing the governor but said the issues that matter most to voters are the cost of living and safety.
With Democrats from the New York City area controlling the governorship and both chambers of the state Legislature in Albany, Zeldin said electing him as governor would restore a balance of power that doesn’t now exist.
High taxes, the cost of living and public safety concerns are causing many people, including members of his own family, to leave New York state, Zeldin said. “As you look at other states where you see the dollar might go further, they feel safer and they seem to be living life freer,” he said.
He said some of the restrictions the Cuomo administration imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic “don’t pass the common sense test,” and said they have also hurt the state’s small businesses. Zeldin also echoed the complaints of many business owners who say that general unemployment benefits are keeping able-bodied people from going back to work as the economy recovers from the pandemic recession.
Zeldin urged re-thinking the state’s public safety policies. “We need to support law enforcement more, not less,” he said. “More can be done to improve training and increase trust. I do believe we can improve, but in this state we are going in the wrong direction.”
He also criticized the 2019 bail reform law that increased the number of criminal defendants who are released without bail prior to their cases being heard, making all misdemeanors and nearly all non-violent felonies no-bail crimes. “Cashless bail has been a disaster in this state. Everybody saw that coming,” he said.
Zeldin, 41, a U.S. Army veteran and Albany Law School graduate, previously served in the state Senate and has represented the First Congressional District since 2015. He is married, with twin 14-year-old daughters.