After two teenage boys were shot outside his Long Island house over the weekend, Representative Lee Zeldin wasted no time in reiterating the tough-on-crime stance he has persistently promoted in his campaign for New York governor.
He swiftly arranged a press conference in front of his moonlight home on Sunday night, followed it up with a Fox News interview the next day, and utilised an appearance at the Columbus Day Parade to infuse his political rhetoric with a fresh, though horrifying, personal perspective.
Mr. Zeldin, a Republican, said as he marched in the Manhattan parade on Monday that the episode was “traumatic” for his twin 16-year-old daughters, who were doing homework in the kitchen at the time of the shooting. This might apply to everyone in the whole state.
Police said numerous bullets were fired from a dark-colored car at three adolescent boys strolling near Mr. Zeldin’s residence in Suffolk County, Long Island, on Sunday afternoon. Two 17-year-old guys were forced to seek shelter on Mr. Zeldin’s porch and had non-life-threatening injuries, whilst a 15-year-old lad escaped the gunfire unhurt.
The fact that the killing occurred near the house of a Republican congressman whose gubernatorial candidacy has centred on New York’s crime rate and garnered disproportionate media attention seems to be sheer coincidence.
The police had not made any arrests as of Tuesday, but according to a law enforcement official who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, they were examining if the event was related to gang activity.
But with less than four weeks until Election Day, the shooting presented Mr. Zeldin with an opportunity to raise the issue of public safety in the governor’s race, as the congressman seeks a breakthrough in his bid to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who has held a comfortable lead in most public polls.
In a state where Democrats far outnumber Republicans, Mr. Zeldin faces an uphill battle to overcome Ms. Hochul’s considerable fundraising advantage. He has been eager to speak in brutally personal terms about the effect of the massacre, appealing to New Yorkers who have also been impacted by gun violence. During the incident, Mr. Zeldin was at a campaign event in the Bronx with his wife.
Mr. Zeldin, who has represented Suffolk County in Congress since 2015 and is a fervent Trump admirer, has said that law and order will be his main concern if elected. Consistently, he has attempted to attribute the increase in violence on criminal justice policies implemented by progressive legislatures and to left-leaning prosecutors, such as Manhattan’s district attorney Alvin Bragg.
Concurrently, he has fought Democratic-led moves to tighten gun control measures, hailing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn New York’s concealed carry legislation as “a historic, appropriate, and important win.”
Ms. Hochul, who is running for her first full term, has touted her efforts to tighten the state’s bail laws and initiatives to crack down on illegal gun trafficking, as well as a law she signed raising the age for the purchase of semiautomatic rifles, in the wake of this year’s supermarket shooting in Buffalo.
The gunfire outside Mr. Zeldin’s residence is the second time this election season that his safety has been endangered.
A guy attempted to strike Mr. Zeldin with a sharp key chain at a campaign event in Rochester three months ago. The assailant, an Iraq War veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism, was immediately subdued and first freed without bond before being arrested on federal assault charges.
Mr. Zeldin, who was not wounded, used the incident to criticise Democrats for the modifications they imposed to the state’s bail regulations two years ago, despite the fact that the incident had no effect on the current situation of the campaign.
Mr. Zeldin could definitely use a lift, since he has behind Ms. Hochul in virtually every publicly commissioned survey conducted this election season. A testament to a ravenous fund-raising infrastructure that collected $11.1 million between July and October of this year, he has also found himself chasing her campaign donations. The funds have enabled her to bombard airwaves and mobile devices with campaign advertising targeting Mr. Zeldin’s backing for Donald Trump and hostility to abortion rights.
However, Mr. Zeldin’s financial prognosis is not precisely dismal. During the same time, he raised $6.4 million, due in part to fund-raisers with former president Donald J. Trump and Florida governor Ron DeSantis. In recent weeks, Republican super PACs have spent almost $4 million on advertisements attacking Hochul’s management of the economy and claiming she is soft on crime.
On Tuesday, a police cruiser was still parked in front of Mr. Zeldin’s house in Shirley, a working-class hamlet on Long Island’s South Shore, where neighbours on the generally tranquil neighbourhood were still shaken by the outbreak of violence.
Dan Haug was in his house when he heard the gunshots and hurried to the window, where he saw one of the lads laying in Mr. Zeldin’s bushes, writhing in pain and screaming.
Mary Smith, the mother of the unhurt youngster, attributed the shooting on the prevalence of firearms among young people, while emphasising that she did not think her son was a member of a gang.
Ms. Smith expressed sorrow for the Zeldin family’s experience, but complained that she had not heard from the congressman despite his many public statements.