NEW YORK – Lee Zeldin took to the stage at his campaign's watch party at midnight, one hour after his Democratic incumbent challenger Kathy Hochul declared victory in New York's unexpectedly tight gubernatorial race. But he wasn't about to concede.
As of Tuesday night, the Republican congressman from Long Island had yet to concede, despite Associated Press declaring his defeat. “There’s a piece of this story that is still to be told,” he told a thinning crowd of what was hundreds of supporters earlier in the night at the swanky ballroom Cipriani 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan. “There’s over 1.4 million Election Day votes that are still out.”
Meanwhile, Hochul, who took office after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned last year amid a sexual harassment scandal, had already claimed victory as the first woman ever elected to the state’s top job. “Yes, the glass ceiling, like the one that’s above us today, was shattered tonight in the State of New York. And you, my friends, made it happen,” she reportedly said at her own watch party, elsewhere in Manhattan.
'It's too early. Don't concede.'
What began as an evening full of patriotic musical hits including Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" and a flowing open bar, turned into a late night of disappointment from Zeldin's supporters; reactions ranging from denial to acceptance. Dozens flocked to the press area, begging to know if journalists could offer them insight beyond what the polls were showing.
"It's too early," and "don't concede," other supporters chanted.
Others went home as soon as Hochul delivered her victory speech, rather than waiting on Zeldin to take the stage.
“It’s going to be a little frustrating for members of the media who didn’t ever want us to be in contention here in New York."Lee Zeldin
During his seven-minute speech, Zeldin, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, echoed the GOP leader as he took a shot at “members of the media who didn’t want us ever to be in contention."
“It’s going to be a little frustrating for members of the media who didn’t ever want us to be in contention here in New York,” he said.
Some New York counties, including Suffolk, where Zeldin serves as a congressman, had not finished counting votes as of early Wednesday morning.
Brooklyn District 48 Councilwoman Inna Vernikov, who was behind Zeldin's "get out the vote" campaign, was the only other person to give remarks at the event.
Notable attendees included Dov Hikind, a former assemblymember who outspokenly has endorsed Zeldin despite being a Democrat. Wearing his signature red beret was Curtis Silwa, founder of Guardian Angels, a nonprofit organization for unarmed crime prevention and 2021 long-shot Republican mayoral candidate.
Zeldin supporters partied like it's 1994
New York is considered a deeply blue state that has not had a Republican governor in 20 years. The Hochul-Zeldin battle was the tightest gubernatorial race the state has seen since the 1994 election when incumbent Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo ran for a fourth term, but was defeated by Republican George Pataki in an upset victory.
If elected, Zeldin would have been New York's first Republican Jewish governor.
Originally the clear underdog, Zeldin’s campaign surged in recent months as voters turned their attention to statewide crime and the economy. With strong “get out the vote” campaigns and influential endorsements, the Orthodox – who represent a sizable segment of New York's electorate – contributed significantly to candidate Zeldin’s surge in polling numbers, which unexpectedly turned the race neck and neck only weeks before Election Day.
Wednesday afternoon polling shows Hochul took the lead with 52.8%. Zeldin trailed close behind at 47.2%.