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The dynamics are not the result of choice or strategy but rather environment. The GOP is nearly decimated across the state, and with a polarized landscape on the heels of a Trump presidency, it might be impossible to find a GOP candidate who can appeal to center-right Democrats and independents — especially one who has the kind of financing and zeal Zeldin does.

The next George Pataki simply doesn’t exist.

“Right now, it’s beginning to look like searching for a unicorn, because such a Republican is not likely to emerge from the primary,” said Bruce Gyory, a long-time Democratic strategist in Albany.

On Friday, Zeldin notched another clear marker when he announced he’d been backed by Republican county chairs representing more than half the party’s weighted vote, positioning him as the party’s designated gubernatorial candidate if the support holds until next year’s convention.

It’s not the same as a nomination; any Republican who secures 25 percent of the weighted vote at the convention would automatically receive a spot on the primary ballot, and others would be able to gather petitions for a primary challenge. Ten potential candidates appeared on a poll the party sent out to supporters in mid-April, each of whom had been invited to an in-person vetting in Albany. GOP leaders have also set up times for candidates to come speak to their committees on a regional basis.

But Zeldin’s campaign is far ahead of his peers’. He has been courting local county leaders and hauled in $2.5 million during his campaign’s first 10 days. Zeldin met with the Republican Governors Association executive director Dave Rexrode on Thursday, and has picked up support from leaders of the small-but-powerful Conservative Party in New York.

The goal has always been to get a player in the game sooner rather than later, according to state party chair Nick Langworthy. And when it comes down to the most important factor in choosing a candidate, there’s really only one answer, said Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive who lost to Cuomo in the 2018 general election and is considering another run.

“Winning,” Molinaro said in an interview. “My message is very simple: We just have to be unified. This is not going to be easy no matter who the candidate is.”

Zeldin has not made an effort so far to downplay his record or connections.

When asked at the Albany vetting session about how his relationship with Trump and his anti-abortion record might play in a general election, Zeldin characterized them as distractions and said he would instead “triple down” on the issues that he says matter most to the New Yorkers with whom he has been speaking.

“They are saying, ‘if you don’t run, and you don’t win, I’m leaving,’” he told reporters and party leadership during the mid-April candidate forum. “And I’m telling you the issues that they are citing are issues related to the economy, issues related to public safety, issues related to education, and being embarrassed about the governor. And I’m just going to continue to focus on what New Yorkers are telling me they want me to be focused on.”

Still, there’s little question that a Republican candidate for statewide office in New York cannot simply rely on fellow party members to win a general election. Former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, another potential candidate who has been aggressively wooing local party leaders, said as much during the forum in Albany, noting that bringing in Democrats would be vital during the general election.

Astorino speaks from experience — he lost to Cuomo in 2014 by 14 points. But the plan he floated for 2022 didn’t include highlighting bipartisanship as much as communicating the Republican message to a wider audience, maybe in Spanish, he said.

“Hablo español y esto es muy importante: because I’m going to be able to go into neighborhoods and espouse our virtues as a Republican, and talk about issues that are important, not just in the Hispanic community,” he said. He pointed to support he received from the NAACP and members of the African American and Hispanic communities during his past campaigns. “That’s how I won in Westchester,” he said.

For years political observers have theorized that if the GOP wished to break the recent Democratic monopoly on the governor’s office, it would have to follow the playbook of 1994, when Pataki beat Mario Cuomo as a pro-choice, pro-environment center-right candidate with a reputation for a quieter pragmatism that contrasted with Cuomo’s more dramatic politicking.

It was a different time; the Republican party had vital anchors across New York — a more vibrant presence upstate, failsafe Republican strongholds on Long Island, an incumbent U.S. senator in Al D’Amato, who functioned as a party boss, a healthy GOP majority in the state Senate and a new mayor in New York City, Rudy Giuliani, the first Republican to win the city’s top job since John Lindsay in 1965.

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In theory, a well-funded moderate candidate — someone like central New York’s longtime GOP Rep. John Katko — could thread the ideological needle to pose a true challenge to a Democrat next year, said Gyory, the Albany political strategist. But first he or she would have to get through the primary, and that could lead to problems. More New York voters are affiliated with no party than they are registered as Republicans — appealing to them in a general election after winning over the GOP’s pro-Trump conservatives will be difficult, Gyory said.

There are about 6.7 million registered Democrats in New York, about 3 million registered in no party, and about 2.9 million registered Republicans.

Though Zeldin already clinched the support of several key county chairs, others who are still waiting on feedback from members said they, too, welcome his momentum and energy.

“I don’t think there is a slow button on Lee Zeldin,” Albany County Republican Party Chair Randy Bashwinger said in an interview. “He is very aggressive, a very energetic person, and that’s what we need … He’s proven he can win [downstate], and proven he can raise money.”

Richard L. Andres Jr., who heads the Niagara County Republicans, thinks voters want a “clear choice” between candidates because they are more clearly defining themselves than they were in ’94, when the parties were less ideological.

Republicans have pointed out that in 2020 Trump received tens of thousands more votes in New York City than he did in 2016, driven in part by gains in Latino-majority communities like the Bronx. But he still lost the state by more than 20 percentage points both years.

So this year, Republicans are banking on the idea that traditional issues — taxes and crime, for starters — will play better next year than in 2018.

“We’ve always felt that we’ve had a message that would appeal should we be able to get it out,” Andres Jr. said. With Trump in the White House, he said, the language from the party leader was “was so over the top our candidates locally couldn’t cut through the noise and there was no way to distinguish between his policies and our policies.

“Now there’s time before election day to do that. Midterms have historically went in favor of the challenging party and I’m hoping history repeats itself,” he said. “I’m a government teacher, I’m a history teacher. There’s a 150 years of history telling me its going to be a good year for Republicans, the question is just how good?”

Could Andres be right about history repeating itself? That may depend on who the Democrat will be. Cuomo said in 2019 that he intended to run for a fourth term and, despite the scandals eating away at his popularity, has not rescinded that position. When asked in March about his intentions for 2022, a his fellow Democrats began calling for his resignation in droves, Cuomo responded that it was “not a day for politics.”

The governor, who must contend with an impeachment inquiry and multiple criminal criminal investigations, is facing accusations of sexual misconduct and claims he hid the number of Covid-related deaths tied to nursing homes. Just 40 percent of New York voters say they view Cuomo favorably, while 52 percent view him unfavorably — a record, according to an April Siena College Research Institute. That’s down from 77-21 a year ago.

Should Cuomo resign or decide not to run for a fourth term, GOP leaders and consultants acknowledge that a fresh face in the form of Attorney General Tish James or Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would change the nature of the race. But, so far, no Democrat has declared a 2022 bid for governor.

The GOP is banking on running against Cuomo for a fourth time and counting on the idea that New Yorkers are fed up with more than a decade of his leadership.

That’s where some 1994 parallels do get to play. Pataki’s victory is widely attributed, among other things, to “Cuomo fatigue” that characterized Mario Cuomo’s third term. And Pataki ran on simple concepts that hit close to home: cut taxes, cut spending, snuff out crime.

That same policy messaging is relevant again in 2021, with the GOP assailing Cuomo and Democrats for raising taxes and passing controversial criminal justice reform bills when they regained two-house rule 2019.

Those issues and the general sense of exhaustion — rather than political affiliations — should be enough for anyone on the fence to support a change in leadership next year, Kings County GOP chair Ted Ghorra said.

“Taking all other factors out — New Yorkers need to think with their heads, and not their hearts,” he said. “Just seeing what one-party rule has done? It should largely be based on policy and common sense.”


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Black Lives Matter thought they had Washington’s ear. Now they feel shut out.

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Now, leading Black activists say those issues aren’t getting the hearing they deserve.

“It was grassroots and base building organizations that put our issues at the forefront. That’s who delivered this win to the administration,” said Amara Enyia, policy director for the Movement for Black Lives. “At minimum, those folks should be given an audience.”

Part of the disconnect may be the cultural gap between activists — for whom justice is an absolute, but attainable ideal — and politicians, who deal with the messy realities of governing, forging compromise, and accepting incremental wins. Many BLM leaders, for instance, pushed to “defund” city police departments, only to find little appetite among lawmakers for what was widely seen as a politically suicidal position.

On Sunday, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) signaled that he was willing to water down qualified immunity, which currently shields officers from civil liability for misdeeds, in order to pass some sort of policing reform legislation.

“Well, I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that,” Clyburn told CNN. “I just won’t do that. … Sometimes you have to compromise.”

So while, at the outset of the new Congress, movement leaders stressed they wanted to play a role in enacting policy change, and insisted they weren’t interested in empty rhetoric or piecemeal reforms, they’re now reassessing that approach as frustration sets in.

Now, where there was once more momentum behind the push for sweeping systemic change, bureaucratic policy hurdles and political calculations have pushed activists with the Movement for Black Lives back to the sidelines.

While this has forced activists to refocus their efforts, they maintain that their organizing is multi-dimensional. And they’ve amassed a sizable war chest. The Black Lives Matter Global Network, armed with more than $90 million in fundraising following last summer’s protests, has channeled those funds into initiatives and campaigns. One, launched in February, targets police unions and police budgets–efforts that have the most heft at state and local levels.

They’ve also used that funding to publicize their assessment of Joe Biden’s performance as he passed the 100-day mark. A recent advertisement paid for by the Black Lives Matter Global Network, criticized the administration’s handling of police reform. The ad, which aired in Washington, D.C., for a limited time, specifically condemns what they see as Biden’s lack of action on the transfer of military equipment to law enforcement.

“We are the people who elected Biden,” the ad says. “It’s time he started acting like it.”

When asked for comment, a White House official did not specify where talks with movement leaders stand. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly explain the administration’s stance, said there is an “open and ongoing dialogue” between senior White House officials and leaders of the movement as well as with legacy civil rights organizations.

Movement leaders also met with members of Congress early in the planning stages for the Justice in Policing Act last summer and asked for a platform to outline the BREATHE Act, several activists said. However, even those they view as allies on the Hill — including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who is spearheading police reform discussions — were unwilling to diverge from the bill’s core tenets.

As members of Congress continue to hash out a bill to pass with enough Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, activists say they have not been included in any of those discussions.

Melina Abdullah, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and one of the movement’s first lead organizers, said movement leaders have not abandoned their national advocacy work.

She pointed to a number of allies in Congress like Bass with whom she and other leaders have had “critical conversations” in the past about the movement’s role in policymaking.

“One of the things we’re looking at moving forward is having a better relationship [with lawmakers],” Abdullah said. “So rather than lawmakers making laws without the input of a movement that gives traction to them, we want to do a better job of coordinating on the front end.”

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But complicating things is the fact that movement leaders stand vehemently against the Justice in Policing Act, which Congress drafted as a response to their protests. They argue that instead of holding officers accountable, the bill — which passed the House in March — actually gives more funds to law enforcement. Moreover, activists say, police de-escalation training, universal body cameras and data to track use of force, all provisions of the Justice in Policing Act, don’t go far enough.

The bill “requires that police be the fixers of their own problems,” said Karissa Lewis, national field director for the Movement for Black Lives. “And we know that that just has not been a successful strategy.”

Still, the Movement for Black Lives has come out in favor of some national policies that have implications for the work they do on the state level. Activists point to both the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as critical to their work. If passed, the bills would curb a number of the provisions in state laws that limit access to the ballot.

Organizers said they were happy to hear Senate Majority Leader ´ say that he would like to pass a major voting rights bill by August, though it’s not clear how he would do so without reforming Senate rules.

And there are activists who are continuing their work locally. A national platform, they say, was never one of their chief goals. Following an unsuccessful effort to reallocate police funds in Minneapolis last summer, activists there say they’re doubling down on their push for more comprehensive public safety plans that give community members more power.

“We know the history of the failure, where we’re expecting [police] to reform themselves,” said D.A. Bullock, a lead organizer with the Minneapolis-based group Reclaim the Block. “We know that’s not possible. We’re looking to a more fundamental change in the way we do public safety.”

Nor do they see Derek Chauvin’s conviction as the final chapter following last year’s organizing against police violence and systemic racism under the umbrella of a “racial reckoning.”

“People are still asking this question of, ‘is anything coming?’ Yes, it’s coming. It’s happening on the local and state level,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and lead organizer with the Movement for Black Lives.

Still, Mitchell added that he and other lead organizers feel they are “duty bound to ensure that [police reform] happens on the federal level.”

Mitchell called for Biden to issue more executive orders and make full use of the bully pulpit to pressure Congress to act quickly on criminal justice reform as discussions around the Justice in Policing Act seem unlikely to conclude in time for Biden’s May 25 consensus deadline.

Federal legislation, activists argue, should address the root causes of the issue: A system of law enforcement that disproportionately harms communities of color. And that means they’ll continue to push for a public safety overhaul — and lobby those members of Congress willing to hear them out.

“We’re not interested in easy solutions, and we’re not interested in nibbling around the edges,” Mitchell said. “This is an urgent and real crisis for us.”


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Palestinians, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes

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In recent weeks, tension has been soaring in Jerusalem, marked by clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in the walled Old City, located in east Jerusalem which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

One of the flashpoints in the Old City has been the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site of Judaism. Another driver of Palestinian anger has been the threatened eviction of Palestinian families from homes in an east Jerusalem neighborhood by Israeli settlers.

Monday was a long day of anger and deadly violence, laying bare Jerusalem’s deep divisions, even as Israel tried to celebrate its capture of the city’s eastern sector and its sensitive holy sites more than half a century ago. With dozens of rockets flying into Israel throughout the night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials and warned that the fighting could drag on, despite calls for calm from the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

Hamas, the militant group ruling the Gaza Strip, fired dozens of rockets Monday evening, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem. The barrage came after Hamas had given Israel a deadline to withdraw forces from the Al-Aqsa compound.

By Tuesday morning, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired more than 200 rockets. That included a barrage of six rockets that targeted Jerusalem, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) away. It set off air raid sirens throughout Jerusalem, and explosions could be heard in what was believed to be the first time the city had been targeted since a 2014 war.

There appeared to be some first signs of de-escalation in Jerusalem early Tuesday. Palestinian worshippers performed the dawn prayer at the mosque without confrontations as Israel apparently limited the presence of its police officers around the compound. Amateur videos showed dozens of faithful marching to the mosque and chanting “we sacrifice our blood, soul for Al-Aqsa.”

In Gaza, an Israeli drone strike killed a man in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis early Tuesday, according to local media reports. In another strike, a woman and two men were killed when a missile struck the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, according to Gaza Health Ministry and rescue services.

Hamas’ armed wing said it intensified the rocket barrages following the airstrike on the house.

The Israeli military said it had carried out dozens of airstrikes across Gaza overnight, targeting what it said were Hamas military installations and operatives. It said a Hamas tunnel, rocket launchers and at least eight militants had been hit.

Dozens of rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But one landed near a home on the outskirts of Jerusalem, causing light damage to the structure and sparking a brush fire nearby. In southern Israel, an Israeli man was lightly wounded after a missile struck a vehicle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “terrorist organizations in Gaza have crossed a red line and attacked us with missiles in the outskirts of Jerusalem.”

He said fighting could continue for some time and that “”whoever attacks us will pay a heavy price,” he said, warning that the fighting could “continue for some time.”

Gaza health officials gave no further breakdowns on the casualties. At least 15 of the 22 deaths in Gaza were attributed to the airstrikes. Seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in a mysterious explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket. More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.

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In a statement issued early Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the rocket attacks would continue until Israel stops “all scenes of terrorism and aggression in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Tensions at the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, have triggered repeated bouts of violence in the past.

In Monday’s unrest, Israeli police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound.

More than a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the mosque as police and protesters faced off inside the walled compound that surrounds it, said an Associated Press photographer at the scene. Smoke rose in front of the mosque and the golden-domed shrine on the site, and rocks littered the nearby plaza. Inside one area of the compound, shoes and debris lay scattered over ornate carpets.

Over 600 Palestinians were hurt in Jerusalem alone, including more than 400 who required care at hospitals and clinics, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.

Palestinians and police reported renewed clashes late Monday. Israeli police also reported unrest in northern Israel, where Arab protesters burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at security forces. Police said 46 people were arrested.

Monday’s confrontations came after weeks of almost nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The month tends to be a time of heightened religious sensitivities.

Most recently, the tensions have been fueled by the planned eviction of dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where Israeli settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.

Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling Monday in the case, citing the “circumstances.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned “in the strongest terms” the rocket fire on Israel and called on all sides to calm the situation.

“More broadly, we’re deeply concerned about the situation in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including violent confrontations in Jerusalem,” he said. He said the U.S. would remain “fully engaged” and praised steps by Israel to cool things down, including the court delay in the eviction case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid further confrontation, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a march by thousands of flag-waving nationalist Jews through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City to mark Jerusalem Day.

The annual festival is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. But it is widely seen as a provocation because the route goes through the heart of Palestinian areas.


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Vatican warns U.S. bishops about rebuking Biden, other Catholic pols

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Ladaria, in his letter, said any new policy “requires that dialogue occurs in two stages: first among the bishops themselves, and then between bishops and Catholic pro-choice politicians within their jurisdictions.”

Even then, Ladaria advised, the bishops should seek unanimous support within their ranks for any national policy, lest it become “a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

Ladaria made several other points that could complicate the plans of bishops pressing for tough action:

— He said any new statement should not be limited to Catholic political leaders but broadened to encompass all churchgoing Catholics in regard to their worthiness to receive Communion.

— He questioned the USCCB policy identifying abortion as “the preeminent” moral issue, saying it would be misleading if any new document “were to give the impression that abortion and euthanasia alone constitute the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching that demand the fullest accountability on the part of Catholics.”

— He said that if the U.S. bishops pursue a new policy, they should confer with bishops’ conferences in other countries “both to learn from one another and to preserve unity in the universal church.”

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— He said any new policy could not override the authority of individual bishops to make decisions on who can receive Communion in their dioceses. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., has made clear that Biden is welcome to receive Communion at churches in the archdiocese.

Among the leaders of the campaign to rebuke Biden is Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who recently issued a pastoral letter arguing that Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should not receive Communion. A few days later, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego published an essay saying such an initiative “will bring tremendously destructive consequences.”

Ladaria’s letter was dated May 7. It was first reported Monday by Catholic News Service and the Jesuit magazine America.


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