Republican candidate for governor Lee Zeldin on Thursday vowed to suspend the recently approved criminal justice law changes in New York that have been a flashpoint in a broader debate over public safety in the state.
Zeldin, speaking in New York City, said he would, through executive order, declare a crime emergency and suspend laws that ended cash bail for many criminal charges, measures that limit solitary confinement in prisons and a measure that raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18.
Zeldin also pledged to suspend the enforcement of changes to the state's discovery laws that are meant to make evidence available to defense counsels on a faster basis and a law that made changes to parole.
"It's time to take back our streets and our subways," Zeldin said. "New Yorkers should be able to walk these streets and feel safe."
How Zeldin would be able to suspend laws through an emergency order is unclear, and some lawmakers on Thursday said he would be unable to do so.
"Someone get this man a copy of the state’s constitution please," said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a supporter of the criminal justice reforms, on Twitter.
Zeldin also pledged to work with both parties to enact permanent, legislative changes to the laws that progressive advocates have championed in recent years in Albany.
"I'm willing to work with anyone, Assembly, Senate, liberal, Democrat, Republican, conservative," Zeldin said. "We can't approach this as liberals or moderates or conservatives."
Gov. Kathy Hochul's campaign in a statement criticized the plan, charging that it lacked credibility.
"Just like he has no plan to address gun violence, 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," said spokesman Jerrel Harvey. "Gov. Hochul is the only candidate in this race with a real plan to keep New Yorkers safe."
Supporters of the changes to New York's criminal justice system have argued the measures were needed to provide balance to a system weighed against people of color and lower-income New Yorkers.
But a rise in violent crime in recent years have led to calls for changes from Republicans, law enforcement and a handful of Democrats. Earlier this year, Gov. Hochul and state lawmakers agreed to changes to the bail law that expanded circumstances in which cash bail is required.
Crime has emerged as a key issue for Zeldin as well as Republicans running up and down the ballot this fall.
But making legislative changes may be difficult for a Republican governor given the overwhelming Democratic majorities in the state Legislature. At the same time, crime and public safety concerns have been subsumed in recent polling by voters' anxiety over inflation and the cost of living.
Still, calls for changes has drawn support from some Democrats, including Albany County District Attorney David Soares. In an interview last week, Soares urged state legislators to hold a special session and overhaul the measures.