On the day of the election, more than one million people in Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in the election. These voters gave Republican Lee Zeldin’s campaign for governor of New York their overwhelming support. With 57 percent of the vote to Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul’s 43 percent, he won the race.
The outcomes were reversed on the other side of the Long Island Sound. With 60 percent of the vote to Zeldin’s 40 percent, Hochul easily won the election in Westchester County, which is the other largest suburb of New York City. Her performance there was crucial in helping her survive the unexpectedly close race and become the first woman elected governor in the state. Her accomplishment came after she became the first woman elected to the position.
New York‘s Westchester County has become a Democratic firewall in recent years, boosting candidates running for state office and Congress and making it one of the most influential blue suburbs in the country. This dichotomy in some of the nation’s wealthiest and largest counties serves as a stark reminder that not all suburbs are the same.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is in charge of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, won Westchester by 20,000 votes, but he still lost the election overall by 2,300 votes because he was crushed in neighboring counties that went red.
“Westchester is almost becoming the sixth borough of New York City,” said Rob Astorino, who was the county executive for two terms and then ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate and twice for governor. “In some ways, it’s becoming a part of Manhattan. It’s that wealthy, well-educated white liberal who bought houses during the pandemic without seeing them first and thinks Republicans are the devil.”
Long Island and Westchester, which have a total of 4 million people in three counties, have long been seen as battlegrounds for any House or statewide candidate. But in recent elections, Nassau and Suffolk have been moving toward the red side. Last year, Republicans did well in local races. This year, all four House seats in Nassau County went to Republicans, including two that were held by Democrats who were leaving office. The wins gave the GOP control of the House.
The race for governor was the closest since 1994 because Zeldin did well on Long Island, which he represents in Congress. Hochul beat him statewide by nearly 6 percentage points. Her big leads in New York City, Westchester, and, to a lesser extent, the large upstate counties of Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, and Albany were too much for him to win. But even though she won in her home county of Erie, the margin she got in Westchester was bigger.
The Republican message about the high cost of living and crime in New York City was most effective on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley counties near Westchester, such as Rockland, Orange, and Dutchess, which are east of the city. The GOP won two of the three close House races in these areas.
But Westchester? The red ripple in New York went around the county, which has 1 million people, which is more than seven states. All of its Democratic candidates for the House and all of its Democratic candidates for the state legislature won. By 67,000 votes, Hochul won the county. Two days before the election, President Joe Biden campaigned with Hochul in Westchester. He did this to get support from the party’s core voters in a state with twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
“I think we’ve found a balance between the far left and the moderate left,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a former state lawmaker who beat Astorino by 15 points in 2017 and now works with a county legislature where Democrats have a 15-to-2 majority. Republicans used to be in charge of county government.
The Covid-19 pandemic may have changed the face of the electorate more in the New York City area than in any other part of the country. At first, people in the city fled to the suburbs, more to the Hudson Valley than to Long Island. This made some counties bluer.
In the last three years, Westchester added almost 12,000 new Democrats to its active voter rolls, which is a 4 percent increase. Nearby, Ulster County, which is home to Woodstock, gained almost 6,000 new Democrats, which is a 12 percent rise. Ulster helped Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan, who used to be the county executive and was the only Democrat in the area to win his House race, get re-elected.
The average household income in Westchester is $97,000, which is $20,000 more than the national average. It wasn’t always like this, though. In 1994, George Pataki, who was then a senator, beat Mario Cuomo, who had been governor for three terms, by 8,000 votes. Pataki got 68 percent of the vote in the state of Ulster.
“It’s not the same at all. “There has been a change,” Rye City Council member Latimer, who was first elected 35 years ago, said. “Long-time residents have packed up and moved to Florida. They have been replaced by young professionals coming up from the city or people moving in for corporate assignments in Westchester or the city, and they have a different way of thinking.”
When you add in Yonkers, White Plains, and Mount Vernon, which are all growing cities in the county, Democrats are less likely to face tough competition in cities with strong party machines. People who used to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn now live in Westchester. This has led to a lot of new apartment buildings to attract young professionals who still only live a few train stops from the city.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers and the leader of the majority in the state senate, lost her first run for the chamber by 18 votes in 2004. She ran again in 2006 and won. Since then, she hasn’t been in a close race. She was the first Black person and the first woman to be chosen as majority leader in 2019.
She said that a moderate to the progressive message that seems to work in the county is that “we’ve tried to meet the people where they are and offer solutions to the things that worry them.” “I’m glad we were able to do what we did.”
With a growing Hispanic population, Nassau and Suffolk counties have become more diverse, and the same thing has happened in Westchester. In contrast to most of the state, the number of people living in the counties has grown over the last ten years.
But the number of Democrats is higher in Westchester than on Long Island, and moderate Democrats in the east are more likely to vote Republican, according to local officials. Republicans spent a lot of money on ads in New York City that blamed Democrats for the rise in crime in New York City, where many people from the suburbs work or visit often. Long Island was especially affected.
“When the electorate as a whole is so poisoned by spending that paints Democrats in a bad light, it’s going to have consequences, and this was one of them,” said Nassau County Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs. “They say there wasn’t a red wave nationally, but you could see it in some parts of New York state, including Long Island.”
In his speech, Lee Zeldin doesn’t agree with Kathy Hochul. George Santos, who won Suozzi’s seat in Nassau County as a Republican, said that the party’s message was heard, even though the party had fewer members.
“Lee Zeldin would be governor if we hadn’t lost so many people because of Albany’s oppressive one-party rule,” he said, referring to the fact that New Yorkers in their golden years moved south more than people from any other state.
He said that in 2018, then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo beat his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro by 23 points. This month, Molinaro won a seat in the House of Representatives. So, “the fact that Hochul only beat Lee by 4 or 5 points shows that she didn’t win with a mandate,” Santos said. “She was elected because her party had more people sign up to vote for her.”
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