EXCLUSIVE – Saying that "to save New York, Andrew Cuomo’s gotta go," Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin on Thursday morning declared his candidacy for governor of the Empire State.
Zeldin becomes the first major Republican to launch a challenge against New York’s embattled three-term Democratic governor, who faces allegations of sexual harassment from 10 female accusers, which has triggered an independent investigation by the state attorney general and an impeachment investigation in the State Assembly. Cuomo’s also facing a federal probe into the state’s handling of COVID deaths at nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Zeldin, a staunch ally of former President Trump and a four-term lawmaker who represents the state’s 1st Congressional District in the eastern half of Long Island, made his announcement in a live interview on "Fox and Friends."
"I'm running for governor of New York in 2022," Zeldin said on "Fox & Friends." "We are going to win this race."
He added: "I'm all in, we are all in."
"We cant get complacent," Zeldin said, noting that people are "fleeing" the state amid high taxes and the coronavirus pandemic. "Let’s stay here. Let’s fight. Let’s return New York to its glory."
Zeldin said from New York's "tax policy," "public safety," and "attacks on our freedoms," are "impacting" New Yorkers in "many ways."
"I love this state. I’m still here. We need to turn it around," Zeldin continued. "People are going to flee every single day until we do."
"Everyone, everywhere across this state needs to come together as New Yorkers," Zeldin said, adding it is not about "red or blue." "It’s by us all working together."
In an accompanying release, the congressman pledged to "bring the kind of relentless, fighting spirit towards helping to save our state that Andrew Cuomo only reserves for multi-million dollar self-congratulatory book deals, cover-ups, abuse and self-dealing."
Zeldin blamed "one-party Democrat rule in NYC and Albany" for what he described as the state’s malaise.
"The New York that was once a magnet for the world’s best and brightest is now forcing its own to leave under the crushing weight of skyrocketing taxes, lost jobs, suffocating regulations, and rising crime resulting from dangerously liberal policies," Zeldin charged. "At the helm of New York’s downfall is Governor Andrew Cuomo."
He accused Cuomo of producing "a long line of scandals, lies, abuse and harassment. Cuomo has abused the power and trust granted to him and it is time for him to immediately exit stage left."
Zeldin, an attorney and officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, was first elected to the Suffolk County congressional district in 2014. In an interview with Fox News at the beginning of March, he announced that "I am now actively exploring the race for governor."
The congressman, a strong Trump defender and supporter, met with the former president last month at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, sources familiar with the meeting told Fox News this week. The meeting came as Trump allies have been quietly rallying their support behind Zeldin, encouraging him in recent weeks to launch a gubernatorial campaign, the sources added.
Zeldin’s announcement comes a day after Andrew Giuliani, the son of former New York City mayor and ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, told Fox News that he’s "strongly considering" running for governor.
Giuliani – who served in the Trump administration as a special assistant to the president and as an associate director in the Office of Public Liaison at the White House -- said that he’s been fielding calls from donors in recent days and weeks, and is "trying to decide whether or not it is the right thing to do."
New York doesn’t have gubernatorial limits, and Cuomo announced in May of 2019 that he would run in 2022 for a fourth term steering the state.
While New York is a reliably blue state where Cuomo won reelection to a third term in 2018 by a massive 23-point margin, the governor has politically been severely wounded by dual scandals. Cuomo, who last year initially won national praise from Democrats and the media for his efforts battling the pandemic, is now facing possible impeachment as well as a growing chorus of calls from Republicans as well as Democrats to resign.
More than 135 state lawmakers and nearly the entire congressional delegation from New York – including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – have urged Cuomo to step down.
Cuomo is resisting those calls to resign as he continues to emphasize that people should wait until the results of the attorney general's investigation before making up their minds and passing judgment. While he has apologized for making some women uncomfortable, he's denied that he ever inappropriately touched a woman.
"Women have a right to come forward and be heard and I encourage that fully. But I also want to be clear, there is still a question of the truth, I did not do what has been alleged. Period," he said in a press conference a month ago.
"There are often many motivations for making an allegation and that is why you need to know the facts before you make a decision," he added, saying those who are calling for him to resign are being "reckless and dangerous."
The governor and his office have also pushed back on the nursing home deaths cover-up allegations, denying that nursing home fatality data was altered.