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NY Republicans choose Zeldin as party's nominee for governor, primary still expected

Lee Zeldin at a podium surrounded by supporters, with U.S. and state flags behind them and an audience in front of them.
New York NOW
Rep. Lee Zeldin accepts the Republican designated nomination for governor on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

Republicans in New York chose Rep. Lee Zeldin as their designated nominee for governor on Tuesday, automatically landing him a spot on the ballot in June for a potential primary election.

Zeldin, who’s serving his fourth term in Congress, was informally chosen as the presumptive nominee last year, but Tuesday’s vote solidified his support from party leaders.

He told reporters after accepting the party’s nomination Tuesday that he plans to continue traveling the state to boost his name recognition, and hopefully earn votes from outside the Republican party.

“New Yorkers are telling me, they want me to talk about being able to live here freely, safely, and with more of their money in their pockets,” Zeldin said. “I’m all about that.”

Lee Zeldin delivers his victory speech at the 2022 GOP convention
Rep. Lee Zeldin stands at a podium with the "2022 NYGOP CONVENTION" seal on it and U.S. flags beside him.

Republicans consider this year’s election cycle to be the closest shot they’ve had to winning statewide office in two decades, when former Gov. George Pataki won his final term. Democrats have landed every statewide office since.

But Zeldin will first have to defeat a slate of potential primary challengers. At least four other Republicans want the party’s nomination, and are expected to continue their campaigns.

A few received a small amount of party support at the convention, but Zeldin ran away with the nomination, garnering more than 85% of the weighted vote.

Harry Wilson — a former hedge fund manager, and previously a party favorite who nearly won the race for state comptroller in 2010 — was able to get a majority of the remainder, despite only throwing his hat in the ring just last week.

Wilson said he’s confident he can continue to grow support among Republicans ahead of the June primary.

“If you look at what we've done, in just the handful of weeks we’ve been looking at this race and the week we've been in it, I think we've already lapped the field,” Wilson said.

Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino — who also ran for governor in 2014 — split the rest with Andrew Giuliani — the son of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who also worked in the White House under former President Donald Trump.

Lewis County Sheriff Mike Carpinelli — who was the first Republican to enter the race — did not garner any votes at the convention.

A few of those candidates appeared frustrated with the party’s decision to coalesce around Zeldin so early in the process. Republicans met last summer to choose Zeldin as their presumptive nominee — about a full year before the primary.

“I think this has been pre-baked for a while, I think even before we announced my candidacy,” Giuliani said. He announced his campaign last May.

“This is all a dog and pony show,” Astorino said. “Apparently it was decided in a back room, back in December 2020.”

Astorino, Giuliani, and Wilson are all planning to gather signatures to get on the ballot for a June primary election.

Republicans also chose Alison Esposito as the party’s designated nominee for lieutenant governor. She’s not expected to face a primary challenge, as of now.

Esposito is a decades-long veteran of the New York City Police Department, where she currently serves as commander in charge of a Brooklyn precinct. She’s previously done stints in units targeted at gangs, street crime, and emergency services.

If she remains unchallenged, she’ll join the party’s nominee for governor on a unified ticket heading into November.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat from Manhattan, is facing a primary challenge from at least one candidate — progressive activist Ana Maria Archila.

The primary will be held on June 28.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.