Two Republican candidates for governor on Sunday called for a return to the death penalty in New York following a mass shooting in Buffalo that left at least 10 people dead and three injured.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin and former Trump administration aide Andrew Giuliani backed what would amount to a reinstatement of capital punishment in New York, which last executed a person in 1963. It's a potential revival of what has in the past been a galvanizing campaign issue for Republicans in New York, including the last successful unseating of a Democrat nearly 30 years ago.
Still, the push for the death penalty would come as states across the country have generally backed away from capital punishment given the unavailability of chemicals to perform lethal injections.
Zeldin, who is also competing against former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and businessman Harry Wilson for the Republican nomination for governor in next month's primary, said in a statement he would support the death penalty as a punishment in some of the cases that involve "fatal hate crimes, acts of terrorism, and other extreme violence."
“A simple Saturday afternoon at the local supermarket should never end in violence, tragedy and death," Zeldin said. "Across our state, streets, subways, businesses and homes have been turned over to criminals. Yesterday's Buffalo tragedy was a brutal reminder of the raw, violent hate on the rise in NY. Asian Americans have been killed in NYC with knives, hands, and hammers. Three Jews were assaulted this past week in Brooklyn. Sikhs have been beaten up."
Giuliani on Twitter wrote the death penalty "should be on the table" if the alleged suspect in the shooting was found guilty. Law enforcement have pointed to a racist motivation behind the shooting, which took place in a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo.
"I will push to make sure that is an option for mass murderers and cop killers!" Giuliani said of the death penalty.
The issue proved to be a potent one in 1994 for Republican candidate George Pataki, who eventually unseated Democrat Mario Cuomo. During his time in office, Cuomo was staunchly opposed to the death penalty.
Voters in New York have not been polled about the death penalty in nearly a generation as the issue has largely faded from the public debate in Albany. A Siena College poll in 2005 found most voters at the time, 56% to 29%, supported life without parole over capital punishment.
The proposal drew a rebuke from advocates who have been pushing for changing New York's criminal justice laws, who said the death penalty would only hurt communities of color.
"Reinstating the death penalty or expanding the use of life without parole sentences in response to this attack will accomplish neither," said Jose Saldana of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. "As is the case today, those condemned to death by execution or death by incarceration will be mostly Black and Brown New Yorkers. These extreme sanctions have never kept our communities safe."