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Politics and Government

Wilson walks back debate claim Zeldin asked him to team up

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CBS News New York
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Four Republican candidates for governor (from left) Rob Astorino, Harry Wilson, Lee Zeldin, and Andrew Giuliani

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Harry Wilson is walking back claims that fellow contender Rep. Lee Zeldin asked him to join his “ticket.”

During the Monday night GOP primary debate, one of the more dramatic claims came when Wilson inferred that Zeldin had considered him as lieutenant governor. Wilson later claimed that Zeldin was “lying” for disputing him.

By Tuesday, Wilson, through his campaign spokesperson Alex Wilkes, told The Associated Press that he meant to say that Zeldin had asked him to run as state comptroller as part of his slate of candidates.

But Wilson’s Monday night remark was seen as a clear insinuation that Zeldin had asked him to run as his lieutenant governor.

And Wilson didn’t clarify his remark when Zeldin pressed him on the debate stage.

“I wouldn’t want you to serve as lieutenant governor. I asked Alison Esposito,” Zeldin said, referring to his own lieutenant governor pick.

“You asked, stop lying,” Wilson said. “She was the 15th person you asked and you know it.”

Wilson made the comment as part of his efforts to paint Zeldin as a failing candidate who was “lying” on the primary debate stage.

In turn, Zeldin, a Trump ally and Army veteran who has represented New York’s 1st Congressional District since 2015, vigorously denied that he ever considered Wilson for his ticket as he attacked Wilson as a dishonest “Never Trumper” with Democratic ties.

Wilson, of Johnstown, entered the race this spring by launching a $12 million television advertisement campaign. He’s worked for Goldman Sachs and founded a White Plains advisory firm, and also served as a U.S. Treasury Department advisor under former President Barack Obama.

“I never asked, and I wouldn’t ask ‘Never Trumper’ Harry Wilson,” Zeldin said.

Wilson shot back: “January 12 you did. I got the notes from that conversation. Don’t lie.”

Zeldin said there was a “zero percent chance” he would have considered Wilson.

“You can lie as much as you want, but Republican voters are smarter than you,” Zeldin said.

The Republican field also includes former Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Andrew Giuliani, the son of New York City’s former mayor.