Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Kristi Noem, governor of South Dakota, at the podium.

The Republication convention continued on March 1, with the nominations for lieutenant governor and governor on the agenda to wrap up the two-day event.

There was little drama for the post of second-in-command. Alison Esposito, a former 24-year member of the New York Police Department, was slated to take the number two post on the statewide ticket. After nominating speeches and seconding of the nomination, Esposito was voted by acclamation to oppose Democrat Brian Benjamin. In her speech she characterized Benjamin as a “poster child” for defunding the police.

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“My dad instilled a core value in me that those who cannot protect themselves deserve to be protected,” Esposito declared. “I even went through the FBI academy and spent three months in Quantico learning homicide investigations and leadership and lie detection. I’m just saying. There is a common theme that I am hearing: Give us back our freedom, our personal accountability and get the government out of our day-to-day lives. How about we back the blue? We will back the blue. We will allow parental input and decision-making in our children’s schooling and everyday life. We will work with our struggling businesses that our politicians have executed such an overreach by imposing rules, regulations and mandates snuffing out their ability to be essential, to put food on their own tables. Here’s a unique idea. How about we hold the criminals to task. We’re going to hold criminals accountable for their actions.”

Before Lee Zeldin mounted the podium for his expected nomination as candidate for governor, the convention heard from his rivals – Andrew Giuliani, Harry Wilson and Rob Astorino. All three and their volunteers will be stumping around the state seeking Republicans to sign their nominating petitions. Each of the three said they will be the ones to defeat Zeldin at the June 28th primary.

Giuliani created the greatest fanfare, bringing in tow his father, former New York City mayor and Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, along with Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.

“In the history of this city and state, most often the challenger against the party wins the nomination,” Rudy Giuliani told The Jewish Press. “The candidate that challenges the party usually wins because the people say, ‘What’s wrong with us deciding? What are you afraid of? Give us an even-steven primary and we’ll pick. It’s our party, you don’t own it. You’re just stewards of it.’ Lee [Zeldin] should be smart enough to know that.

“Schools are very important. Some Democrats and Republicans have sold out to the extremely left-wing, if not pretty close to Communist, agenda teachings. They don’t want parents to have a voice in children’s education. That’s a principle of Karl Marx. They don’t seem to like G-d very much. That’s another principle of Karl Marx. They seem to like dependency. They want non-citizens to vote. Those will be the issues. Getting our schools independent and free so the parents can have a real voice through choice and charter schools. That’s a looming issue,” the former mayor said.

“I am happy to give crime-wave Kathy [Hochul] a pink slip on November 8,” Andrew Giuliani bellowed. “It will be the number one job of the governor of the State of New York on day one to repeal bail reform and make sure we end the war on cops.”

Then Giuliani spoke about school vouchers.

“We need to make sure that we create a tax voucher, tax credit program,” Giuliani continued. “Parents who want to send their child to parochial school, to a yeshiva or private school that they have the resources to be able to do that. It should not just be the $31 billion that crime-wave Kathy has pledged to the teachers’ union that runs our education in this great state. Crime-wave Kathy Hochul is beholden not to the parents, not to the students, but to the teachers’ union that does not care about our kids one bit. We need to make sure that every parent is the primary stakeholder in our child’s lives and education.”

While Harry Wilson is known as a corporate turnaround king, the convention delegates weren’t swayed by his speech. Instead, the turnaround king was effectively told to turn around and start circulating petitions. That didn’t stop the eternal optimist from moving forward in laying out his plans.

“Our first budget in 2023 will be a massive turnaround plan,” Wilson predicted. “We will go through every dollar of Kathy Hochul’s $216 billion budget. We will go through every regulation that strangles jobs and drives up the cost of living in everything from energy to housing. We will ask one question: Does this make the lives of New Yorkers better at a reasonable cost? If the answer is no, we will strip it because it is a massive disservice to the people of this state. The net result of that is we will go from being the highest taxed state in the country to the lowest taxed state in the northeast. We will strip away all those regulations that killed jobs and drive up the cost of living, and that means we will put thousands of dollars into the pockets of every middle-class family in the state. That transformation will make New York state a jobs magnet. We will restore freedom, opportunity and safety and we will remake New York into a shining beacon of hope once again.”

Then Wilson made a startling confession that drew a loud round of applause.

“I have no interest in being in politics. I have no interest in being governor, but I have a deep, deep interest in fixing the state,” Wilson admitted. “In a broken New York the American Dream dies, and for the sake of our kids and grandkids we cannot allow that to happen. I will not allow that to happen.”

Next up was Rob Astorino, a two-term county executive from Westchester County who ran against former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014.

“I went nose to nose with Cuomo. I knew what he was from the beginning. I knew what he represented,” Astorino recalled. “I called out his corruption at every opportunity. I fought Cuomo with everything at my disposal. I held him to just 54 percent of the vote in a year that was supposed to be a coronation for him. No one has run closer for governor since George Pataki.”

Then Astorino, 54, took aim at the current governor.

“You know who never took him [Cuomo] on and questioned Cuomo’s dealings? Kathy Hochul. Kathy Hochul sat back and watched as Cuomo built the most corrupt pay-to-play administration in state history,” Astorino said. “She knew about Cuomo’s creepy side and remained silent. Saying nothing was to her benefit so she stayed mum. She is already a pay-to-play governor herself. She’s governing even further to the left than Cuomo did. This unelected governor needs to go and this is the year to replace her. This state needs a fundamental transformation and I am prepared to deliver it. We are not going to let Progressives and Democratic Socialists chase us out. I know we can make this state great again. A safe and affordable place to raise a family and start a business.”

Then Astorino, a Hawthorne resident, turned on the convention delegates – who vote.

“This [election] game will be played and won in my backyard,” Astorino predicted. “I stand before you today as the most viable general election candidate, someone who can rally the base while also appealing to Democrats and independents. No one else can do that. No one else has done that. I have a large grassroots army of motivated volunteers ready to petition me onto the ballot. You can save us that step by providing me with 25 percent of your vote. Vote your head. Vote your heart – but either way, there will be a primary.”

Zeldin, a 41-year-old veteran of Iraq and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, highlighted his priorities as he has done throughout the state in his stump speeches.

“It’s not just about getting past Covid. It’s about restoring New York to glory. It’s about backing the blue unapologetically. Loving our selfless, dedicated, heroic men and women in blue,” Zeldin said proudly to a roaring, upbeat crowd. “It’s about repealing cashless bail. It’s about firing district attorneys who refuse to enforce the law. I believe we should pass a law enforcement bill of rights. I believe that parents have a fundamental right to control the fundamental upbringing of their child and they do not relinquish that right by sending their kids off to school. Losing this race is not an option. The Republican Party is back, baby. We refuse to lose. It is not an option.”

Wrapping up the convention was Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore, based in Hewlett, Nassau County.

“Thus, we turn to you Almighty G-d and beseech, L-rd Almighty give us the strength in this hour of weakness, give us all the fortitude in the era of wavering, give us the leadership in this generation that we kowtow to the whims and fancies that are driven by popular culture, give us that strength to act within the confines of your grace and your vision. Infuse Your honor in the hearts of our citizens to realize Your presence and to understand that the eternity of the Divine morality supersedes the fancies of popular culture. As we infuse the morality of the Almighty, His love, His compassion, His sense of justice in our lives and in our legislation, we shall be successful. His name is infused in our currency. It should be infused in all the programs in which we spend that currency. Moses blessed His people with that blessing and it is as relevant today. May G-d rest His Divine presence within your handiwork and may we all say ‘amen,’” Kamenetzky concluded.

The reaction from Jewish attendees to the two-day event was all positive.

“It’s a very conservative ticket that I’m very proud of, that can help New York state as a whole get back on track,” Hewlett resident Gabriel Boxer told The Jewish Press. “We have a major issue with bail reform, with parole, with crime, with taxes in our state. The Republican Party has stepped up in New York state to really bring some of the brightest and best people nominated on the ticket to help gear and steer New York state back in a direction to become an amazing state once again. I’m very excited for the future.”

One of the notables at the convention was Nassau County legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip. She was one of 14,325 Ethiopian Jews transported to Israel in May of 1991 as part of a two-day covert Israeli military operation known as Operation Solomon during a civil war in the African nation. Both Pilip and Zeldin had served as paratroopers – she in the Israeli Defense Forces and Zeldin in the U.S. Army. That common, Pilip says, enhances her endorsement of Zeldin.

“We have to choose a leader who can unite and inspire all of us, to bring us up to do better in life. We have that leader that I admire in Lee Zeldin.”

Inna Vernikov, 37, a New York City councilwoman from Brooklyn, took the stage at the convention but did not speak about the candidates. Born in the Soviet Union in what is now southern Ukraine, she had been a lawyer in private practice for eight years before running for office.

“The people of Ukraine are suffering at the hands of a terrorist,” Vernikov said. “Growing up in the region, I know that President Putin has always been a tyrant but now he has officially lost his mind.”

Republican political analyst Moshe Hill said, “I look forward to seeing a strong primary … Primaries give the public a few more months to really know the candidates. I think it’s an opportunity for the party. I don’t see Lee stumbling based on his track record and experience in running a strong campaign, and I do believe he will win the primary. We have four strong candidates in this primary match-up. The strongest candidate is Lee Zeldin in terms of his experience, his network, his grassroots campaigning, his canvassing, and he has the most to offer for the voters of New York.”

To sum up: Astorino, Wilson and Giuliani are waging a petition drive to gain ballot access to challenge Zeldin in a June primary. Alexander Mici is waging a petition drive to gain ballot access to challenge Pinion, the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in the primary.

The Conservative Party chose the same candidates as the Republican Party – Zeldin, Esposito, Pinion, Henry and Rodriguez.

To recap from last week: On the Democratic side, Tom Suozzi and Brooklyn’s Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate, are waging petition drives to gain ballot access to challenge incumbent Kathy Hochul in the June primary. Diana Reyna, Suozzi’s running mate, and Ana Maria Archila, Williams’s running mate, are each circulating petitions to challenge Brian Benjamin for lieutenant governor.

The Working Families Party chose Williams, Archila, Schumer, DiNapoli and James.

The enrollment breakdown in New York state shows six million enrolled Republicans and independents evenly split who are registered to vote and 6.7 enrolled Democrats registered to vote. At the end of the long campaign season, it all comes down to which party is more effective in getting out the vote.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.