Long-shot and no-shot gubernatorial candidates debate without Cuomo

Long-shot and no-shot gubernatorial candidates debate without Cuomo

Politico New York: November 1, 2018

“Shame on Andrew Cuomo for not coming here,” said the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. “Shame on the broadcast and cable corporations and networks for not broadcasting this."


By Anna Gronewold and Bill Mahoney

ALBANY — Four of the five gubernatorial candidates got their chance to debate each other on Thursday night, and they used their 90 minutes at a League of Women Voters forum to lay out their visions for the state’s future.

But the event was most notable for who wasn’t there: Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is seeking a third term. The governor has been cutting ribbons throughout the state in recent days while studiously avoiding any unscripted events that might interrupt his seemingly smooth path to reelection.

The end result was that Cuomo's opponents were given the chance to discuss their thoughts about state government, but they had no opportunities to look Cuomo in the eye and say why he should be unseated. Not coincidentally, no television stations chose to broadcast the event.

“Shame on Andrew Cuomo for not coming here,” said the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins. “Shame on the broadcast and cable corporations and networks for not broadcasting this."

Hawkins was joined by Republican Marc Molinaro, the Serve America Movement’s Stephanie Miner, and Libertarian Larry Sharpe.

The candidates agreed on several issues, occasionally resembling a tag-team operation to air their grievances with the incumbent. All four called for hearings to craft stronger sexual harassment policies, particularly in Albany, which Miner said is in a “terrible state of affairs.” Molinaro, a former Assembly member, said he’d never allow his daughter to intern in the state Capitol and blamed Cuomo for turning a blind eye to abuses.

“Albany is a cesspool of bad behavior and powerful men have allowed it to continue without holding anyone accountable,” Molinaro said.

All four candidates said they want to get rid of the Regional Economic Development Council program, which Cuomo has used to dispense grants, tax breaks and benefits to local projects, and criticized the state’s slow responses to a series of drinking water crises, most prominently in Hoosick Falls. They bashed Cuomo’s signature Excelsior scholarship program, which offers free tuition at state universities, for excluding large swaths of the students — those with disabilities, according to Molinaro, and those who must attend classes part-time, according to Hawkins.

But for the most part, the debate served as a chance for the candidates to lay out their priorities and their personal beliefs.

“We have to stop sending our young men and women to fight wars,” Hawkins said, weighing in on an issue over which few New York governors since Daniel Tompkins have had much of a impact. (Tompkins was given credit for re-organizing the state militia during the War of 1812.)

Sharpe, the only candidate who consistently engaged with the other participants’ responses, said their answer to everything was “invest, invest, invest,” but that “every time you hear invest, it means more taxes.” Sharpe’s solution is lower spending and encouraging small businesses.

Miner, Syracuse’s former mayor, pivoted to issues like gun rights and charter schools to bridge the partisan divides that separate upstate and downstate communities.

Miner, explaining her support of both charter and traditional public schools in Syracuse, said: “We should not allow a state government or a local government or mayor to say, 'if you support one, you don’t support the other." Miner also said Second Amendment rights need to be discussed in a way that does not alienate hunters.

“I think any candidate’s job is to explain why you’ve earned their vote,” Molinaro said. “My job is to stand in front of New Yorkers and say what Andrew Cuomo isn’t saying. That is that we ought to work to earn your support, that New York is not moving in the right direction, and that with a leader, a governor, who understands how hard it is to live in New York, we might finally reduce taxes, make it easier, make it more affordable, and end the corruption in the state.”

At least one candidate thinks he has a plausible path to victory. Sharpe thinks that Republicans, who “have no plan,” are actually siphoning votes from him.

“If I drop out today, guess who wins? Cuomo does. If they drop out today, guess who wins? Cuomo does. If you drop out today,” he said, pointing to Molinaro, “guess who wins? I do!”

The governor, for his part, held a telephone town hall on Thursday night in support of state Senate candidate Jim Gaughran. It was closed to the press.

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