File photo: Denise Civiletti

Rep. Lee Zeldin would be the perfect Republican candidate to unseat Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year, according to Suffolk County Republican Party leader Jesse Garcia.

Garcia is advocating a “draft Zeldin” movement for the 2022 governor’s race. He says the four-term congressman is weighing his options.

“He’s going to be deliberative and methodical,” Garcia said in an interview today. “He’s been very clear that it has to work for his family and then move forward from that.”

The Suffolk County Republican leader believes Zeldin is an ideal candidate for the statehouse. He served two terms as state senator before defeating incumbent NY-01 Rep. Tim Bishop in 2014.

Zeldin has name recognition that reaches far beyond New York’s First Congressional District, Garcia said. And he has developed a “national financial network” that can help elevate him to statewide office, he said.

Garcia believes Zeldin can galvanize support on Long Island with support upstate to overcome New York City Democrats’ political clout, which traditionally dominates state politics.

He points to the election of Gov. George Pataki as a model for success.

“The game plan is there,” Garcia said. “You have an electorate tired of a bullying, ineffective incumbent governor, which is Mario Cuomo back in ’94 and Andrew Cuomo in 2022,” he said. Zeldin is a candidate he believes can appeal to moderate unaffiliated voters and moderate or conservative Democrats in the five boroughs. And that, he said, “will make this viable.”

Cuomo has been weakened by recent scandals involving nursing home fatalities and sexual harassment allegations made by a high-ranking official in his administration, Garcia said.

Zeldin has been an outspoken critic of the governor, especially in recent weeks, when he’s taken to Twitter to blast Cuomo’s handling of the COVID crisis in nursing homes and other issues, using the hashtag #CuomosGottaGo.

Garcia said Zeldin’s “record of accomplishments” includes “the work he’s done on the East End on environmental issues like preventing the sale of Plum Island, the protection of the Long Island Sound and the economic and scientific boom to the New York region by effectively moving, in a Democratic House, $2 billion earmarked for Maryland’s National Lab for investment at Brookhaven National Lab, where it’s going to create tens of thousands of jobs,” Garcia said.

In the pandemic, Zeldin “delivered $283 million to Suffolk County” as well as 2 million pieces of PPE, Garcia said. “He was the driving force to move the Naval hospital ship Mercy into New York Harbor and he provided the resources needed from the Army Corps of Engineers for the Javits Center and Stony Brook.”

Where does Zeldin stand on a potential 2022 run?

“Congressman Zeldin has had a lot of passionate outreach recently from New Yorkers who are basically saying ‘if you don’t run and you don’t win, I’m leaving,’” a spokesperson said in an email today. “The one thing he knows for sure on this is that he’s going to do everything he can to make sure Andrew Cuomo doesn’t get a fourth term.”

Garcia said he’s confident the Suffolk County Republican Party has the “bench depth” to retain the First Congressional District should the incumbent congressman vacate the seat to run for governor.

“I agree with Chairman Garcia that Lee Zeldin should absolutely run for governor,” Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer said. “I look forward to him touring New York State with his platform of being Donald Trump’s top supporter, including voting to overturn the 2020 election, opposing allowing New Yorkers to deduct state and local taxes, and opposing federal aid to fund New York first responders,” Schaffer said.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to add a comment from Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer, who responded to a request for comment after the article was originally published.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.