Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin promised Thursday that bail reform will be gone by next January – if he wins his increasingly tight race against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul this November.
“What I’m committing to do is what Kathy Hochul refuses to do. And the first day that I’m in office, immediately after being sworn in as the next governor of the state of New York, I will be declaring a crime emergency,” the Long Island pol thundered Thursday in a “Day One” press conference in Manhattan.
Such a move would unlock sweeping executive powers to unilaterally suspend state laws championed by Albany Democrats that limit cash bail, solitary confinement and how gunman under age 18 can be tried in adult courts, Zeldin said.
“New Yorkers should be able to walk the streets and feel safe,” Zeldin added, four days after a gunman opened fire outside his Suffolk home while his teenage daughters were inside.
Zeldin, floated such ideas last month in an exclusive interview with The Post.
He also promised Thursday to boot laws curbing technical parole violations and requiring prosecutors to speed up the time they take to turn over evidence to criminal defendants – moves critics argue allow dangerous criminals to roam free amid rising crime.
Efforts to repeal criminal justice reforms are part of a broader tough-on-crime approach touted by Zeldin, who has made removing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg using gubernatorial powers a key part of his campaign platform.
Albany Democrats, who currently have supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly, could override Zeldin’s emergency declaration with majority votes in each chamber while launching a barrage of legal challenges.
But they would also have to justify doing so in a state where violent crime has steadily worsened.
“An executive suspending laws he doesn’t like sounds a lot like a dictatorship,” State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) defensively shot back after Zeldin’s announcement Thursday, calling it a “dangerously unconstitutional” vow.
Still, state law allows governors to “temporarily suspend specific provisions of any statute, local law, ordinance, or orders, rules or regulations” for 30 days after declaring a state of emergency with 30-day extensions possible.
Hochul has leveraged such authority for a variety of actions: helping local governments cope with extreme weather, battling polio, as well as streamlining government purchases in ways that later led to accusations of pay-to-play deals with campaign donors.
Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose resignation last year brought Hochul to power, enjoyed sweeping executive powers earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic following passage of a resolution by the state Legislature in early March 2020.
But experts say suspending controversial laws like bail reform would be much harder for Zeldin despite the threat he argues increased shootings and other high-profile crimes present to the public.
“There is a tremendous fear that New Yorkers, particularly people who live in the city, have about moving around the city based on some previous incidents and we all feel it. I express it. I feel it – but it’s not the kind of thing where you turn the whole law upside down, throw out the Legislature and crown yourself king,” former Gov. David Paterson said about Zeldin’s proposed crime emergency.
“I am sure that there are people that the congressman knows who are lawyers, who’re telling him this would never stand up in court,” added Paterson, a Democrat known for pushing the limits of executive authority during his time in office.
To pass legal muster, Zeldin would have to prove that rising crime is a catastrophe on par with hurricanes, infectious diseases and nuclear attack, according to attorney Leslie Silva, a partner at Tully Rinckey.
“I definitely don’t recommend it,” she said of Zeldin’s stated approach to dumping bail reform if he pulls off an historic upset over Hochul, who recent polling shows with a single digit edge in the race.
Hochul campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey suggested that questions about the constitutional basis of Zeldin’s promised executive action raised questions about the seriousness of his approach to battling crime.
“Lee Zeldin has no credible plan on public safety nor does he understand the basics of governing or democracy, which is no surprise for an election denier,” Harvey said.
While it remains unclear whether Zeldin could really nix bail reform and other controversial policies single-handedly, experts say showing his hand now could help woo voters in key districts ahead of the final day of voting on Nov. 8 with polling shows rising crime weighing on voters’ minds.
“Tough on crime means nothing without serious proposals,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf said in a text. “Long Island and suburbia will eat it up.”