A musical look at the race for governor in New York

By Richard Lee

With just a little over two weeks remaining in New York’s gubernatorial campaign, most voters could use a break from the increasingly steady flow of attack ads, mail pieces, robo-calls and the like.

It is in that spirit that I take off my political analyst cap this week and harken back to my days of covering rock’n’roll to pick songs that capture the spirit of each candidate. It is not an easy task. Neither Democrat Kathy Hochul nor Reoublican Lee Zeldin conjure up images of the superstars who routinely perform to sold-out audiences at arenas and stadiums. Nevertheless, here are my suggestions.

Lee Zeldin

I start with the challenger, who has made crime his major issue. The problem with crime as a theme song is that so many of the great tunes on the topic are about criminals. Many of the songs actually glorify those who break the law. Lyrics such as “I fought the law, and the law won,” “I shot the sheriff” and “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” are not going to fly with Zeldin’s supporters.

Instead, let’s look at what Zeldin is telling voters, which is New York has a crime problem, and I’m the one who can fix it. Those words sound a bit like a superhero’s, so maybe the Kinks’ “(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman” can fit the bill. After all, lyrics such as “Look in the paper, what do I see?  Robbery, violence, insanity” sound like they came right out of Zeldin’s playbook. But there is a problem that makes the song a bad choice for the Republican gubernatorial candidate. As the title implies, the song is about a “would be” hero, someone who “wishes” he could fly like Superman but is too weak to fill the role:

I’d really like to change the world
Save it from the mess it’s in
I’m too weak, I’m so thin
I’d like to fly but I can’t even swim

A better choice for Zeldin is “Holding Out for a Hero,” the Dean Pitchford/Jim Steinman song that became a hit for Bonnie Tyler when she recorded it for the soundtrack of the1984 film Footloose.

The song is about needing a “white knight” and a “streetwise Hercules” who’s “gotta be strong, and he’s gotta be fast, and he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.” I can just hear it now blaring from the loudspeakers at a Zeldin rally as the candidate takes the stage.

Kathy Hochul

For Kathy Hochul, the first place to look is songs that bear her name. But as was the case with Zeldin, the initial search is not the best one. The Everly Brothers’ “Kathy’s Clown” just doesn’t sound serious enough for the state’s chief executive, and other than the title, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Kathy’s Song” doesn’t mention the governor’s first name at all. 

Another place to look is the plethora of songs written about New York, but almost all of them from “New York, New York” to “New York State of Mind” are about New York City. Not only does Hochul need votes from all over the state, she is a Western New Yorker, and with the race tightening, she can’t afford to favor one part of the state over another. In fact, her best bet for a song would be one that sends a message to Zeldin as he inches closer and closer in voter polls. A blast from the past, Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” would send that message loud and clear.

Final Notes

On the road to Albany, Hochul and Zeldin may be singing different tunes, but they have at least one song in common — the Alice Cooper classic with the refrain “I want to be elected.”

Richard Lee, executive director of the Jandoli Institute, covered politics and government as a reporter and later served as Deputy Director of Communication for two New Jersey governors. Click here to read more of Lee’s On the Road to Albany columns, and follow the Jandoli Institute on Twitter and Facebook.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, On the Road to Albany, Politics, richleeonline

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