In 1994, Republican George Pataki unseated Democratic incumbent Mario Cuomo in the governor's race in part with a pledge to tackle crime and public safety in New York. 

Now, nearly 30 years later, Pataki sees parallels in the campaign for governor as Republican nominee Lee Zeldin pushes a public safety message. 

"To win as a Republican, you have to get at least a million and a half Democrats to vote for you," Pataki said on Tuesday. "But crime is not a partisan issue."

Pataki, in Schenectady on Tuesday to tour downtown business development, said he's worried New York's progress on improving public safety is being reversed. 

"When I took office, people forget we were the most dangerous state in America. We had to change the criminal justice from top to bottom," he said. "I fear we're heading in that direction again where we're going to be one of the most dangerous places in America."

Republicans have sought to capitalize this year on voter concerns over crime in the state, pointing out many victims are often low-income people and people of color. Polling in recent months has consistently shown crime to be a top-tier concern for voters. 

"Politicians who take Uber or have a driver or live in the suburbs — they're not the victims of crime," Pataki said. "It's the person who is taking the subway home at six o'clock. It's the bodega workers on the shift alone at eleven o'clock."

But while Republicans have blamed laws like ending cash bail for many criminal charges, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has pointed to her efforts to make changes, including requiring more crimes to be bail eligible and having judges take into consideration prior offenses. 

At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with the rise in violent crime last year. 

"I will look at all the data," Hochul said this week. "I've yet to see data that shows the correlation between the increase in crime and the bail laws, because it doesn't exist in any other city." 

Hochul has backed a multi-state effort to crack down on the flow of illegal weapons in New York, considered by law enforcement to be the cause of most gun crimes in the state. She has in recent weeks pointed to a decline in shootings as a mark of success. 

Hochul also points to the rise in violent crime in cities across the country, not just in New York state. 

"You have to put it in the context of a nationwide phenomenon," she said. "And the issue that could possibly be attributed to bail, we addressed that."