Crime and Safety

NY bail reform becomes election focal point: Here’s where the candidates stand

New York’s controversial bail reforms have become a focal point in Tuesday’s elections, with critics blaming the Democrat-backed measures for jacking up crime — and experts saying the issue could help propel some Republican candidates to victory.

The 2019 reforms could be what gives GOP gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin in particular a leg up over incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul come Nov. 8, longtime pollster John McLaughlin said in an interview on WABC 770 AM’s “Cats Roundtable” aired Sunday.

“The undecideds are going to vote against [Hochul] because of this cashless-bail crime wave that has hit New York,” he told host John Catsimatidis.

Zeldin has made polling inroads by hitting Hochul over the issue, which has reverberated across the state as voters are tasked with electing representatives in Albany’s legislative chambers as well as the US House of Representatives.

The Long Island congressman has promised to suspend bail reform laws on his first day as governor and to fire progressive Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Meanwhile, Hochul, claimed in a campaign ad late last month that she “toughens bail laws” — though the assertion is based on recent, minor tweaks to the 2019 mandate.

With Republicans hammering the issue of public safety ahead of the midterm elections, some Democrats — including two in key New York House races, as well as Attorney General Letitia James — have walked back their earlier support for the criminal justice reforms.

According to experts, New York's controversial bail reform laws may give Republican candidates like Rep. Lee Zeldin an edge on Election Day.
According to experts, New York’s controversial bail reform laws may give Republican candidates like Rep. Lee Zeldin an edge on Election Day.
Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

While Democrats are expected to remain in control of the state Legislature after ballots are counted Tuesday, political experts say the issue will continue to be a major sticking point in New York government.

“It’ll be a battle the governor will have to take on,” Hank Sheinkopf, longtime Democratic strategist, told The Post on Sunday.

“Zeldin’s gonna have his hands full should he win. He faces a hostile legislature. In the Assembly, they have a forever veto proof majority and in the Senate, a near veto proof majority,” Sheinkopf said, adding that, “If Hochul wins, in order for her to have any traction left with the public, she’ll have to take on more bail reforms and take on the Assembly.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul claimed there isn't a correlation between the bail laws and an increase in crime.
Gov. Kathy Hochul claimed there isn’t a correlation between the bail laws and an increase in crime.
Anthony Behar/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Across the state, voters “don’t feel safe, they don’t feel their cops are being backed up and they are angry about it,” Sheinkopf said.

“New Yorkers upstate or downstate feel that bail reform has reduced their safety, period,” he added, pointing out that similar worries across the country are contributing to predictions that the GOP will win back Congress.

“Look at Hochul’s campaign ads,” Sheinkopf noted. “They’ve switched from crime to abortion in the last week and a half.”

Here’s a look at what Democratic candidates in some key races in New York have said about bail reforms ahead of Election Day, as compiled by The Post:

Gov. Kathy Hochul

“I’ve yet to see data that shows a correlation with a net increase in crime and the bail laws. Because it doesn’t exist in any other city,” Hochul, who faces Republican challenger Zeldin, said in September.

Attorney General Letitia James

“We need to address a wide range of issues, including but not limited to looking at bail reform,” James said in October. “I understand the concern that individuals have. I understand the fear that they have, but we’ve got to work together and not politicize this very important issue.”

The comments by James — who faces Republican Michael Henry on Tuesday — marked a shift from what she said in an endorsement questionnaire submitted to the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic LGBT Club just back in May.

Attorney General Letitia James said in October that the state's bail laws may need to be reexamined.
Attorney General Letitia James said in October that the state’s bail laws may need to be reexamined.
Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

She said then that legislators should be “resisting the urge to overreact to spikes in crime” — by tightening the bail law without credible data.

“We must follow the data and really look at it from an analytical perspective. That means ensuring we are resisting the urge to overreact to spikes in crime that have occurred during this pandemic, without dismissing them outright,” James said.

Max Rose

In New York City’s only battleground House district, Democrat Max Rose has changed his tune as he gears up for a 2020 rematch against incumbent Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis.

In a 2018 candidate questionnaire for the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, Rose said he supported “federal and state efforts to enact criminal justice reform and end mass incarceration, including … bail reform, and the closure of Rikers Island.”

Just four years later, Rose urged Hochul to call an emergency session of the state legislature and toughen the bail reform law.

Democrat Max Rose has changed his tune on bail reform laws.
Democrat Max Rose has changed his tune on bail reform laws.
Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

“We need more Democrats to come out and say the bail law needs to be fixed. This has to happen,” Rose told The Post July 31. “This is very simple. Gov. Hochul and the legislature need to have a special session to change the bail law, including imposing a ‘dangerous standard’. Judges need the discretion to detain recidivists. Get it fixed.”

In December 2019, the then-congressman warned that “the bail and discovery reforms Albany went too far, too fast.”

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney

In the Hudson Valley, Maloney, seeking reelection in the newly redrawn 17th Congressional District amid a challenge by ​Republican Assemblyman Michael Lawler​, ​​has also appeared to revise his stand on cash bail. 

While running for state attorney general in 2018, Maloney said when asked during a debate if he supported ending cash bail: “Absolutely, and I’d make it a top priority.”

But in April 2022, Maloney noted approvingly on Twitter that the Empire State’s budget includes “reforms to the bail law.”​

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney previously said bail reform was a "top priority" in 2018.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney previously said bail reform was a “top priority” in 2018.
AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson

“​No one can say the old system was working and didn’t need reform. But, it’s essential that we keep dangerous people off the streets​,” he said. “These changes are an important and necessary step​.”

​Maloney’s campaign has claimed he never directly advocated for the bail law in its original form, and expressed support in the AG debate for a system that didn’t use cash bail while supporting the inclusion of safeguards to ensure violent criminals remain locked up.

John Brooks (state senate)

“I am aware that this law sought to address some very real injustices but it absolutely failed in its execution. Put quite simply, it should have been done better,” the state senator (D-Seaford), running for New York’s 5th District against GOP challenger Steve Rhoads, said in a 2020 statement.

Anna Kaplan (state senate)

“I’ve worked to provide record-breaking funding for law enforcement and public safety improvements. I’ve delivered common-sense fixes to bail reform, closed the repeat offender loophole and gave judges more discretion to keep our community safe,” the state senator (D-Great Neck), facing Republican former Sen. Jack Martins in the race for the 7th District, said this month, according to Port Washington News.

Monica Martinez (state senate)

The former state senator, running for New York’s 4th District against GOP challenger Wendy Rodriguez, said in 2020: “What I am hearing is people do not feel safe and my job is to make people safe.”

She voted in favor of bail reform, but told WABC she won’t approve any future budget which doesn’t alter the law.

Kenneth Moore (state senate)

“We need to look (at the bail) system” and “give judges more discretion” in bail decisions,” the Democratic state senate candidate for the 9th District — who faces Republican Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick — said in September, according to The Long Island Herald.

Toby Ann Stavisky (state senate)

“We have to take a look at how the judges are utilizing the bail requirements — or lack of bail — or remand,” state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Queens), running against GOP challenger Stefano Forte for the 11th District, said this month, according to The Queens Chronicle.

Elijah Reichlin-Melnick (state senate)

“The United States is suffering through an incredibly steep rise in gun violence. Shootings and gun homicides are up significantly compared to just a few years ago. We cannot stand by at this concerning rise in crime that is overtaking our state as more and more people are getting shot,” the state senator (D-Ramapo), running for the 38th District against GOP challenger Bill Weber, said in proposing a measure to scale back the law in 2021, according to The Westchester Journal.

Pete Harckham (state senate)

“We need to look at crime holistically because what’s driving violent crime is not bail reform. Unfortunately, that’s a narrative, but that’s not what the facts are,” said the state senator (D-Peekskill) in the race for the 40th District against GOP challenger Gina Arena, according to Politico.

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