Rep. Lee Zeldin of Shirley was named the Republican designee for governor on Tuesday.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

State Republicans on Tuesday named Rep. Lee Zeldin of Shirley their designee for governor. The Democratic designee is Gov. Kathy Hochul.

However, a June primary is possible as Republicans continued to argue which candidate has the best chance to attract voters beyond the Republican Party to win the general election in November.

"This is an opportunity for all of you proud New Yorkers who want to save our state," Zeldin told delegates at the state party convention in Garden City. "New Yorkers are hitting their breaking point and they are desperate … this is a battle for the heart and soul of the state."

Zeldin received more than 85% of the weighted vote of delegates, winning all of Long Island and most of New York City as well as most of upstate. If successful, he would be the first governor in the state who was born on Long Island.

He said he will combat rising crime, support and protect police with funding and legislation, and stop the exodus of New Yorkers tired of high taxes and a high cost of living. He opposes the 2021 bail law adopted before Hochul took office that eliminates cash bail for misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies. He also opposes mask mandates as COVID-19 precautions. The Army Reserve colonel further said he will oppose progressive and socialist measures in Albany after he breaks a 20-year streak of Democrats holding every statewide elected post.

He will, however, possibly face a primary challenge by financier Harry Wilson, former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and former Trump administration aide Andrew Giuliani. They will have to petition their way onto the ballot.

Astorino and Wilson, who are more moderate conservatives than Zeldin, emphasized that they are the best candidates to win in November because they can better attract the independent and Democratic voters needed to bring home a GOP victory. Zeldin was among the closest defenders of former President Donald Trump, who is strongly opposed outside the Republican Party statewide, according to polls.

"There will be primary," Astorino told Newsday at the Garden City Hotel where the two-day convention was held. "What happens in this ballroom and how 2.9 million Republicans vote are likely to be very different."

Wilson joined the race just a week ago and pledged to spend $12 million of his own money to win. He also plans to petition to join in a June primary

"With the right candidate, we can and we will win in November based on our core principles of freedom, opportunity and safety," Wilson said. He said dissatisfaction with all-Democratic control of state government is "sky high" and New Yorkers want change.

"But for any of this to happen, first we have to win," he said.

Wilson was nominated by Asssmb. Chris Tague of Schoharie County, who posed a simple statement to delegates: "I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of coming in second place."

At the two-day convention, Zeldin rarely mentioned Trump.

"I’m my own man," Zeldin told reporters after he was named the party’s designee.

Republicans say they have the best chance of winning the governor’s office in a decade because three-term Democrat Andrew M. Cuomo resigned in August amid sexual harassment accusations.

Democrats, however, said that by backing Zeldin, Republicans have aligned themselves with Trump "and his right-wing extremism, abortion bans and election conspiracies," according to a statement. They said Zeldin once defended Trump’s "big lie" that he won the 2020 election.

"By nominating Big Lie Lee for governor, the New York GOP is sending a blaring signal to New Yorkers that their plans for 2022 are pandering to the far-right, promoting an out-of-touch agenda, and dividing our state," the statement from the State Democratic Committee said.

Republicans, however, spent two days at their convention portraying an image of inclusion and recognizing that, to win, they must appeal to voters beyond Republicans.

"We are not out there trying to accomplish a right-wing agenda," said state Republican chairman Nick Langworthy. "We need to be registering voters on the streets, the old-fashioned way."

Zeldin’s running mate, Alison Esposito, was named the designee for lieutenant governor. She is a second generation member of the New York City Police Department.

"There is a common theme: Give us back our freedom, our personal accountability," she told delegates. "We will back the blue … we’re going to hold criminals accountable for their actions."

"Your kids, New York’s children, all children, should be able to walk the streets and play without being afraid of being hit by a stray bullet, or watch drug dealers across the street," Esposito said.

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