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A possible challenger to Cuomo

Rep. Lee Zeldin at Brookhaven National Laboratory on

Rep. Lee Zeldin at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Sept. 18, 2020. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Daily Point

Governor Lee Zeldin?

It’s not exactly new to hear some people chattering about a Lee Zeldin bid for higher office in New York, Suffolk County GOP chairman Jesse Garcia told The Point. But with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo facing widened scrutiny in the deaths of New York nursing home patients, "that drumbeat became a little stronger," Garcia said.

Zeldin’s county party chairman said he’s talked to Zeldin about running for governor and has been hearing from Republican and business group stakeholders "expressing their support that he would run for governor."

Running against a dynastic incumbent Democrat with millions in the campaign bank in a state where there are fewer than half as many registered Republicans would certainly be a challenge. But the case staked out by Zeldin fans like Garcia includes Zeldin’s military record, his two terms in the State Senate, his record of working with Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone during the pandemic, plus other work for the region like helping to get support for Brookhaven National Laboratory.

This sketch of Zeldin would certainly run up against Democratic criticism for Zeldin’s votes against 2020 Electoral College certification, but Garcia posits that journalists and political types "get wrapped up in all that" and that voters focus more on how you can make their lives better.

Then there’s the sense that the Shirley Republican has been tested in tough races, including surviving a blue wave midterm in 2018 and outperforming former President Donald Trump in 2020. The political landscape might be better for a Republican next year given Democratic control in D.C. In an off-year election, voters tend to support the party out of power.

"People always say that the pendulum swings back and forth," Nassau GOP leader Joe Cairo told The Point, saying of Zeldin’s potential bid that "I hope it’s real" and "I think he’d be good for Long Island."

Other GOP contenders being jabbered about include Rep. Tom Reed, who said he’s considering it, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, who appeared at a fundraiser with Zeldin last week. Reed, who is seen as more moderate than the other two, was downstate recently and came out to Nassau to meet Cairo, but the county chairman said they weren’t talking about a gubernatorial run.

Zeldin himself has acknowledged the interest and used it as a chance to bash Cuomo.

"He's had a lot of passionate outreach recently from New Yorkers who are basically saying, ‘If you don't run and you don't win, I'm leaving,’" said spokeswoman Katie Vincentz in a statement. In a Monday appearance with Bernie & Sid in the Morning on 77WABC, Zeldin deflected when asked about a run but said it was a "no brainer" that whoever ran against Cuomo, "I will do everything in my power to make sure that person wins." He then ticked through some potential campaign subjects, including the high cost of living in New York and Democratic-led criminal justice reforms.

"I actually feel like this is a moment where we need to decide whether we want to save our state," he said.

Zeldin still has some time to decide whether he wants to run and give up his congressional seat in the process, but Garcia noted that given Zeldin’s deliberative approach when he decided to run for Congress, "I think he'll make his decision about a year out from the election."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Rice digs for answers on Facebook’s role in spreading extremism

With memories of the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol still raw, Rep. Kathleen Rice sent a letter Monday to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking for information about the social network’s role in disseminating disinformation to veterans and service members that contributed to their embrace of extremist movements and philosophies.

"We know that veterans and military service members are being targeted daily online by disinformation campaigns and dangerous conspiracy theories. We must do more to protect them," Rice said in a statement. "The data we are requesting from Facebook will help Congress better understand the nature and scope of this urgent issue and allow us to take concerted and sustained actions to stop the extremist violence that is stemming from it."

In the letter obtained by The Point, Rice cited an NPR analysis that found that nearly 20% of those charged so far in the attack were former or current members of the U.S. military. Veterans are targeted, Rice wrote, "because they have a high propensity to be politically engaged and carry significant credibility and influence in their communities, both online and offline, especially on issues related to patriotism, national security, defense and public service."

Rice, who was joined on the letter by veterans’ affairs committee chairman Mark Takano and six colleagues, asked for information about accounts associated with veterans or service members that were targeted by extremist groups involved in the Capitol attack and whether Facebook has engaged with veterans service organizations about disinformation that targeted veterans, among other issues.

Rice is not the first member of Congress to express concern about the presence and influence of extremist ideology on Facebook. But her letter will brighten the glare of a discomforting spotlight that is getting brighter by the moment.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

A grim race

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Quick Points

  • Italy has established a national day of recognition for health care workers who have battled the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s hoping the idea is contagious.
  • President Joe Biden declared a national emergency in Texas, freeing up aid for millions who have suffered through power outages, water shortages and no heat. Biden can’t do anything to aid Texas with its other emergency: It’s represented by Ted Cruz.
  • It took 263 days to record the first 250,000 deaths of COVID-19, underscoring the danger posed by the virus. It took 95 days to record the next 250,000 deaths, underscoring the danger posed by our actions.
  • The China-controlled Hong Kong government called for tighter supervision of its public broadcaster, saying it lacked transparency and objectivity in criticizing Hong Kong officials. Actually, transparency and objectivity are what got it in trouble.
  • After San Francisco’s school board voted to remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from school buildings, a Chicago city committee is looking at statues of Lincoln as part of a project to consider symbols that have become "a focal point for conversation, protest and activism." Which only proves that insanity is infectious.
  • President Joe Biden says that by the end of July there will be enough vaccines to give every American two doses. Left unsaid: Not every American will take it.
  • Congressional Republicans are accusing President Joe Biden of bulldozing them on the COVID-19 stimulus bill by reneging on his pledge to work with them. But that’s a two-way street: You have to be willing to work, too.
  • National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the U.S. response to the Solar Winds hack by Russia "will include a mix of tools seen and unseen." Unseen by regular folks, perhaps, but will Russia notice?

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie