The Democratic gubernatorial primary debate on Wednesday between two-term incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo and activist/actress Cynthia Nixon began before the debate actually started–over the thermostat. Senior adviser for the Nixon campaign Rebecca Katz asked the debate host WCBS-TV to make the temperature of the debate space at Hofstra University 76 degrees, as opposed to the “meat locker” Cuomo is known to request for his public appearances.
The silly debacle foreshadowed a heated debate, involving vicious attacks and copious interruptions.
“Can you stop interrupting?” Cuomo barked at Nixon during one of his responses.
“Can you stop lying?” Nixon replied.
“Yeah…” Cuomo responded with a grin. “As soon as you do.”
While the debate’s winner was far from clear, the candidates’ foci were crystal within the first few minutes.
Cuomo, a self-proclaimed leader of the #Resistance movement, took aim at Trump and boasted his governing experience, touting, “Nobody has stood up to Donald Trump like I have.” CBS2’s Maurice DuBois asked Cuomo if he would run for president in 2020 if he was reelected governor this year. Cuomo affirmed that he was running for governor, not for the presidency.
But Cuomo largely framed the duty of his governorship in the defensive from President Trump, and poked at Nixon’s inexperience and naiveté when it comes to taking the reins of New York state in opposition to the president. More than once Gov. Cuomo declared President Trump the “main risk to the state of New York.”
Redirecting talking points to Cuomo’s reputation and New York policy, Nixon fired back.
“We already have a corrupt corporate Republican in the White House, we don’t need a corrupt corporate Democrat in Albany as his main opposition,” she said. “We need to oppose Donald Trump not just with rhetoric but with policy.”
She continued, “If you really care about a president that’s rolling back Obamacare, why haven’t you fought harder for single-payer? If you really care about women’s reproductive health, why have you prioritized Republican leadership in the Senate over the Reproductive Health Act which would have codified Roe vs. Wade into law here? When we pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, why have you not fought for the Climate and Communities Protection Act?”
She also accused the Governor of neglecting the passage of a bill that would permit undocumented immigrants the right to driver’s licenses.
Cuomo responded by upholding the achievements of his two terms and denying his empowerment of Republicans and the IDC in the state senate, who continue to block the expansion of rights for undocumented immigrants in New York. He criticized Nixon for saying that she would support the gubernatorial candidacy of former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg who gave the IDC $3 million. Nixon refuted the accusation, arguing that she did not say that she would support him, but rather she would not run against him “because he’s not as corrupt as [Cuomo].”
Cuomo brought up President Trump once again after attacking Nixon on multiple occasions for releasing just one year (he later corrected his accusation to 5 years) of her tax returns for three hours and filing her taxes as an S corporation. “You are a corporation,” the Governor argued. “Only Donald Trump has done less transparency on his taxes than my opponent.”
Nixon scoffed at the jab, calling it a “nothing burger,” and accused the Governor of not releasing his tax returns until after being elected governor in 2010.
The candidates disagreed on almost every topic of debate, including the use of State Troopers in New York City for cashless tolling, funding the MTA, the transparency of renaming the Tappan Zee Bridge after father of Andrew Cuomo and former governor Mario Cuomo, criminal justice reform and legalizing marijuana, campaign finance reform, adding bereavement to Paid Family Leave, and granting public employees the right to strike without penalties.
The opponents’ views aligned on several of the issues at hand, but their ideological angles differ immensely. What can be taken from this debate is where each candidate’s mind lies. Cuomo stands with the Democratic mainstream in the battle against Trump, and Nixon champions policy under the populist guise of democratic socialism.