Since you asked…

After Election Day, we asked honor students at St. Bonaventure University: If you had had an opportunity to ask one question to gubernatorial candidates Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin candidates about their campaign strategy, what would it be? Here are their questions:

Katherine Merkel

My Question: Given the fact that the results of the governor’s race ended up being much closer than predicted at the beginning of the year, what is your biggest regret and biggest accomplishment with regards to your campaign strategy and the main issues that were focused on?

By asking this question, I’m trying to understand if both candidates really thought they did enough throughout the duration of this campaign.

Specifically with regards to Hochul, a lot of experts have been claiming that her lack of participation in debates throughout the race, as well as her seeming trust in the fact that New York has been historically blue were to her detriment during the campaign. After all, one needs only to look at a map of how New Yorkers voted in the election, such as the one posted by “State of Politics” to see all of the counties that are red, yet the sheer volume of votes that came from NYC (just under 800,000 votes for Hochul in the districts of the Bronx, Queens, Kings, and New York).

I’m curious if she feels the same way and has any regrets about how she ran the campaign and if she would feel any sense of urgency to change the way that the campaign was run in the future, perhaps working harder to increase voter turnout in New York City or by reminding New Yorkers that she is actively working for them, and is now a truly elected governor.

I also want to prompt Zeldin’s true feelings about the outcome of the race, and try to get more clarity on the results of the election and what he thought about how his campaign was run. Hopefully this would lead to a discussion about what a Republican would have to do in order to win the governorship in New York in the future, and the most important issues they would have to focus on in order to do so in the future. One of the factors to overcome would be the huge disparity in registered Democrats vs Republicans in the state alone- 49% Democrat and just 24% Republican. It also functions to see what he thinks about what the results of the election mean for the issues that New Yorkers really care about, and what future candidates should focus on when campaigning.

Madison Mowers

My Question: How did the message of your campaign impact the overall success of your campaign and did you find importance in targeting the message of your campaign to specific groups of people?

Within a campaign, the message has the ability to make or break your success. A good message can be the factor that allows a candidate to gain enough support to win an election. By formulating the message of a campaign to appeal to different groups of people, the candidate can attain the support of these groups.

I am interested in learning how exactly each candidate went about using a message to appeal to different groups of people to get their vote, and if they found success in their strategy for doing so. Since there is a great variety of diversity throughout a state, one message may not be able to appeal to everyone, and I would like to hear about if each candidate had a way in which they decided who exactly they would focus on appealing to.

Since Hochul focused her campaign on health care, ending gun violence and other similar topics, and Zeldin focused his campaign on crime, taxes and topics of this nature, each candidate focused on appealing to certain populations. I would like to hear about the successes and weaknesses of their strategy they used promoting these values and forming their message. Additionally, I am interested in learning about if there is anything each candidate found to not work as well in regards to messaging throughout their campaign.

Anna Holohan

My Question: In terms of campaign strategy, I would ask Lee Zeldin how he tried to balance appealing to Democrats in New York while also holding on to the Republican vote.

Because New York is a blue state, he needed to convince large numbers of Democrats to vote for him to have any chance of winning. However, he also needed the support of his own party. It seems he tried to appeal to both parties by focusing on crime and the economy, which are issues that Democrats and Republicans are concerned with.

As for Kathy Hochul, I would ask her why she did not focus more on the issues that the majority of voters cared about. According to a poll by Siena College, the top issue for New York voters in the gubernatorial race was crime, with 24% indicating that it was the single most important issue in the election, followed by the economy and ethics in government. Though abortion was a bigger motivator for voting than expected, I am curious why she focused on abortion and emphasizing Zeldin’s ties to Donald Trump when it seems it could have been more advantageous to focus on issues such as crime and the economy.

Before Election Day, we asked honor students at St. Bonaventure University: If you had an opportunity to ask one question that New York gubernatorial candidates Kathy Hochul and Lee Zeldin candidates would answer at a debate, what would it be? Here are their questions:

Megan Hartsell 

My Question: Considering the topic of state safety, if you are elected, what steps will you take to ensure that New York State’s criminal justice system does not disproportionately impact Black and Latino communities?

Throughout the entire campaign season, Zeldin has made it abundantly clear that his office will work to crack down on crime in the state. I would ask both candidates this question because a report from Mylan Denerstein in 2022, the court-appointed monitor of Floyd v. City of New York, the case that ultimately determined the unconstitutionality of stop-and-frisk practices, found that despite reform efforts over the past several years to eliminate racial profiling in the New York Police Department, there is still a blatant racial disparity of those who are stopped by police and vast underreporting of stops.

It is evident from this report that although NYPD compliance with results of the case in a majority of ways, many of the profiling practices employed are still used today in an unmonitored fashion and fall short of what is expected. It is critical to the justice system that the measures to increase safety in New York state will protect those who are most often targeted by police.  

Jacob Palmer

My Question: My biggest question stemming from the debate in October was specifically about the Seneca Nation. Is there any way to compromise that would allow funding for a new stadium in Orchard Park for the Buffalo Bills, while still providing help to boost the economic status of the Seneca Nation, or are these two ideas mutually exclusive?

The Buffalo Bills are set to get a new stadium in the near future, with an estimated cost of around $1.4 billion dollars. Of that money, around 30% will be funded from Seneca Nation casino revenue. Now Lee Zeldin repeatedly mentioned how these funds are being ripped away from the people of the Seneca Nation. However, we were not able to hear from either candidate on how they would help the people of the Seneca Nation. Also, It would be interesting to hear if Lee Zeldin has plans to backtrack and give some of the allocated stadium money back, and use funds from elsewhere. 

Gabriel Cote

My Question: After watching the debate between Rep. Lee Zeldin and Gov. Kathy Hochul, I noticed that one question was never asked. If elected governor what would either of you do to address food insecurity and homelessness throughout New York State?

This issue of homelessness and food insecurity is one that consistently plagues almost every urban and rural area in New York. I feel very strongly about this issue as I am a coordinator at a soup kitchen in Olean called The Warming House. My time spent at the Warming House has opened my eyes to this great crisis that our state has been experiencing for so long, yet people refuse to do anything about.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the meals served at the Warming House have greatly increased and have stayed relatively high. This increase in the need for food is a great reflection on the current economic state of our country and state. Before 2020 the average number of meals served was around 30 with a high of 50. Currently that previous high of 50 is now the average with the high making it to 99 meals. While this issue is related to the economic climate, more than just economic policies must happen to make a change.

Rushabh Patel

My Question: During your debate, several questions were asked regarding crime, more specifically the subway systems in New York City. How would you be able to increase security in the subway systems when crime such as murder, assault, robbery, etc. could happen in the subway cars or on the platform, and keep enough law enforcements on the streets so crime doesn’t increase there?

I grew up in New York City my entire life, and it is honestly frightening at certain times when you see some people who are either intoxicated or are mentally ill because you have no idea on what their next action is and if you would be part of that.

We have heard so many news reports saying someone was killed, murdered, or robbed every single day. In certain situations, there was no motive for that to occur, the attacker just decided to do it out of free-will.

Additionally, there are millions of people in New York City, it is unrealistic to have a law enforcer to keep watch over these many people. I don’t believe people should have a fear in their mind on if they are going to be able to make it home safely.

Erin Brege:

My Question: As both of you know, the public is growing increasingly worried about public safety issues presented by prevalent occurrences of gun violence in New York, with shootings at Tops in Buffalo, and one in Long Island just outside of Mr. Zeldin’s own home standing out in the past few months. If elected governor, what do you plan to change in order to address these issues? How do you think that your approach will be more successful in doing this than previous efforts have been?

By asking this question, I am hoping to prompt a discussion between candidates in which they dispute different methods of attacking this problem and have an opportunity to explain why they believe that their ideas will be more successful than the other’s. Focusing on what can be done rather than passing blame for cause of these prevalent issues would be very interesting and useful for voters, as candidates will likely disagree, aiding in determining whose plans would likely be most effective.

Because public safety issues have such a direct impact on voters and have become such an increasing issue in New York, this question is extremely important to note during a debate, so that voters can make educated decisions. Although some believe that crime is not as bad as some are saying, it seems to be a very important topic for voters and can still aid in assessment of bigger picture problem-solving skills that these candidates possess.

Braden Reaska:

My Question: What group of voters do you believe is most essential to you winning the race?

  • How each candidate answered the question could indicate who they value most, but they probably would not answer the question so straightforwardly. Instead, each candidate may reply by saying all groups are important to them. But regardless of how they answer the question, voters would be able to learn more about each person. This is because not answering the question in a straightforward manner could serve as an example of each candidate’s character.
  • I think that this question puts Zeldin in a position to be bold. If he calls out a specific group of people that he needs to pull through for him to win, it may embolden that group.
  • It puts Hochul in a position to be smart. She can choose to answer the question in numerous ways, but she can show her voters that she is smart if she chooses to answer in one of the right ways. She certainly has more to lose if she answers in a way that angers a large group of her voters. Both candidates risk offending other groups if they did mention a specific group they need to help them.

Jacob Schoeberl:

My Question: As governor, what would be your plan for the improvement and development of upstate New York?

I am a lifelong resident of rural upstate New York. Throughout my life, I remember the displeasure that was voiced about the elected officials in Albany, specifically in the gubernatorial race, as it always seems that upstate is a second thought when it comes to decisions being made by the office.

For instance, upstate residents voiced concern about a requirement that all new vehicles sold in the state be electric by 2035. While this was frustrating, it was not surprising, as about two-thirds of the New York population resides in New York City where people have greater access to mass transportation. However, there are still more than six million residents of upstate New York who sometimes feel inferior to New York City, to the point where petitions have circulated to split the two regions.

Kayla Bestpitch:

My Question: I would ask both candidates if they choose to be on the defensive or the attack when the opposing candidate paints them as the villain during election time. Additionally, what prompts the candidate to strike against their opponent first? 

This question intrigues me because there are two very distinct sides. Other questions candidates get asked can have answers that lie in a gray area but with this it is either black or white.

The answer to this question is either black or white because the candidate must choose one of the two options as their answer. They either defend their reputation or attack the opposing candidate. They cannot do both or a combination of the two. Unlike other questions they get asked in debates on topics of abortion, taxes, etc. where the answers to these questions can be embellished or contain lots of information to confuse the audience since the topic is so broad, this particular topic of attacking or defending is not a broad topic, but rather a tight topic with limited answers.

In previous weeks we watched a video that Kathy Hochul and her team posted that was attacking Lee Zeldin and picking him and his views apart. Zeldin and his team responded to this ad dissing him and his relationship with Donald Trump by dismissing it and his reasoning is that Hochul’s attacks will backfire on her. Also, if one candidate attacks the other for no apparent reason what are they hoping to achieve from it. Going on the defensive could make the candidate seem guilty of what they are being accused of but attacking the candidate could make them seem hostile and aggressive. 

Maddie Thorne:

My Question: Knowing that politics have become very polarized and violent in recent years, what do you plan on doing to promote unity and find a common ground for the people of this state?

I am asking this question because political parties have put voters and other people against each other. Views and stances are being exaggerated and distorted to make you think that the other side is in the wrong and that you should not associate with them because your political views do not align.

Politicians and their supporters have focused on and marketed left vs. right and Democrats vs. Republicans to get you to pick a side. However, this situation is becoming toxic as it becomes more violent and polarized. Attack ads have only fueled the political fire that we see today.

Just a few weeks ago, a rally attendee attacked Lee Zeldin in Fairport, New York, a suburb of Rochester, during one of his events. This attack provides only a glimpse into how violent and polarized opposing political views have become. Opposing political views should not be grounds to attack people and use violence. Rather than conservative vs. liberal, people and specifically politicians should view problems facing New York (and the U.S.) as us vs the problem. Problems won’t get solved without civil discussion, listening to and understanding opposing views, and compromising. Unfortunately, it often feels like there is none of that anymore.

Brevin Austin:

My Question: In regard to crime, how will each of you work to reduce the number of violent, gun-related crimes here in New York state?

Asking this question is important because each candidate has talked about gun violence before in ads: Governor Hochul highlighting the Buffalo Tops shooting and its aftermath of that local community, and Congressman Zeldin in the context of the “surge” of crime throughout the state, which he is making a key campaign issue. I am also asking this question because I want to see how each candidate will response to it, such as more gun regulations, more police presence, a combination of the two, etc.

I would also like to see how their answers relate to the average New Yorker’s views on this topic. Specifically, I want to see if their answers have a correlation between the top answer in polling discussions on this issue. This would also tell me if they were following the polls and crafting their answers to resonate the most with likely voters when they answer.

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