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Without Cuomo, Other Candidates for Governor Present Ideas in Tempered Debate
Gotham Gazette: November 2, 2018
By David Colon
New York’s gubernatorial candidates (minus Governor Andrew Cuomo, who declined the invitation) took the stage at Albany’s College of Saint Rose Thursday evening for the second debate of the general election, but, unlike the first, one that did not once summon the name “Trump” and focused more on the intricacies of running the government.
Whether it was because of the four-candidate field, the real target for each seeming to be the missing incumbent, or the pre-debate call for civility from College of Saint Rose President Carolyn Stefanco, over 90 minutes Republican Marc Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, Serve America Movement’s Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe did less back-and-forth debating and more delivering pieces of their platforms and criticisms of Cuomo’s record.
Cuomo’s absence itself was little remarked upon, referred to early on by Laura Ladd Bierman, the lead moderator and executive director of the League of Women Voters of New York State, with a pointed “thank you to the four of you who agreed to participate,” and toward the end, as Hawkins said “Shame on Andrew Cuomo for not coming here” during his closing statement. But he was a convenient punching bag for all four of the candidates, who despite presenting very different governing philosophies were united in blasting the two-term governor’s economic development and gun control efforts, Excelsior Scholarship program, and ability to retain New York State’s population.
After sustained criticism that the gubernatorial debates this cycle didn’t focus on issues of particular concern in upstate New York, the very first question of the night from moderator Josefa Velasquez of Sludge involved how to encourage young people to move upstate.
Hawkins plugged his Green New Deal as antidote to the lack of jobs in the extensive region, after noting that “most of them [that do exist] are crap.” Sharpe called for a simpler tax code and the exemption of small business from “federal regulatory bodies” if they only sell their goods locally. Miner called for the end of Cuomo’s economic development schemes and more investment in local infrastructure. And Molinaro, who debated Cuomo one-on-one in New York City last week, called for respect from government and property tax relief through the State taking on local costs.
And so a template was set for the evening: Hawkins as the full-throated leftist, Sharpe as the bombastic and soundbite-friendly voice of libertarianism, Miner as the upstate-friendly moderate wonk, and Molinaro as an earnest, caring Republican out of step with the callous, hyper-partisan attitude the national party has turned to. But the candidates were also so focused on their agreement that the status quo in the state is so poor that they forgot to overtly point out disagreements with each other.
Along with Velasquez, questions were asked of the candidates by the Daily News’ Ken Lovett, WRVO’s Susan Arbetter and College of St. Rose junior Takora McIntyre. While the League of Women Voters sponsored the debate and Saint Rose hosted it, the League did not find a media partner, so the debate was not broadcast on television of radio; the League instead streamed it over multiple online channels.
AddThe candidates, none of whom are well-known across New York, sought to establish their biographies and experiences with voters. Molinaro brought up his experience as Dutchess county executive when explaining why he knew how to lower property taxes or lead a statewide effort to find ways where counties could share public services, and pitched his life in government as one dedicated to improving the lives of everyday New Yorkers. Miner talked about her infrastructure modernization efforts as (Democratic) mayor of Syracuse and focused her closing statement on emphasising her eight years of experience running the city as a case study in “solving real problems” in a broken system.
Sharpe brought up his military service as a way for him to compare the GI Bill benefits he got to his proposed grants for students after the 10th grade, and pitched himself as a “business guy” trying to make “customers” (voters) happy. Hawkins reminded voters of his life of activism while encouraging political leaders to listen to young people and his time as a construction worker to pitch himself as a man who knew the struggles of a working person.
Every candidate said they had problems with the gun-control SAFE Act and the way it was passed, professed it is important for young people to vote, and argued the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils should be scrapped and that the state should pay for mandates that fall on the shoulders of local governments.
On rare occasions, like Hawkins’ dismissal of charter schools as corporate profit-seeking in the guise of education or Miner’s measured support of the proposed ‘red flag’ gun control bill Cuomo is behind or Sharpe promoting his plan to end public education after 10th grade, one candidate disagreed with the general tenor of the other three. But whether it was the number of candidates, the insistence on civility, Cuomo’s absence, or a non-confrontational format, the proceedings largely entailed four candidates standing behind lecterns and reciting their platforms one at a time when prompted by a question.
Sharpe jumped out from the civility constrictions by casting the ideologies of both Democrats and Republicans as uncreative failures (and in one bizarre instance claiming Molinaro “stole” the term “Status Cuomo” from him), and managed to stand out if only because ideas like asking Pepsi to fix lead-lined pipes upstate in exchange for the good press and branding they would get out of it, is in fact something no traditional politician has ever brought up.
Though Sharpe (slash government) and Hawkins (socialism) have drastically different political philosophies and policy ideas, they never had, or took, the opportunity to poke holes in each other’s arguments. Likewise, Miner and Molinaro never went back-and-forth about the best ways to invest in infrastructure and where those investments are first needed. If the Cuomo-Molinaro debate was light on substance, the four-candidate conversation just a few days before Election Day lacked open disagreement.