No Debate In NY Governor’s Race With Less Than 3 Weeks Left
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is balking at requests to debate his opponents, potentially leaving New Yorkers without the chance to see the candidates for governor face each other before the Nov. 6 election.
Republican challenger Marc Molinaro had asked for a one-on-one debate with the two-term incumbent, and three third-party candidates had pushed for a more inclusive exchange.
Cuomo hasn't said why he is reluctant to face his opponents and his campaign spokeswoman declined to respond when asked Thursday. With a significant lead in the polls and in fundraising, Cuomo has little to gain politically by appearing at a debate that could serve as free advertising for his rivals.
Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins, who placed third in the 2016 election, called Cuomo "cowardly" for refusing to debate. He held a mock debate earlier this week with a man dressed as a chicken to make his point.
"Democracy suffers when incumbents hide their positions from the media and public and instead rely on massive donations from special interests to blanket the air-waves with promotional ads," Hawkins said.
Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, has offered a darker explanation for Cuomo's reluctance, saying the governor doesn't want to answer questions about an ongoing federal investigation into Crystal Run, a Hudson Valley health care company linked to $400,000 in campaign contributions to Cuomo. The donations came from the company, its executives, their spouses and company doctors.
Crystal Run later received $25 million in state funds for two new medical clinics — which were already under construction. Company physicians later alleged in a lawsuit they were never consulted about the donations. The use of so-called "straw donors," in which a company uses employees or their families to funnel cash to politicians, is illegal. The company has denied any wrongdoing and Cuomo has not been accused of any involvement.
It won't be the first time a sitting governor has opted not to debate. Cuomo's father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, did not debate Republican George Pataki in 1994 in a race that Cuomo would go on to lose. In 1998, Pataki skipped a debate with Democratic challenger Peter Vallone.
A head-to-head poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University suggests Cuomo is leading Molinaro 58-35 percentage points. The survey did not include Hawkins, Libertarian Larry Sharpe or former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, an independent. The Oct. 10-16 survey of 852 voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The poll found that many voters still don't know who Molinaro is, with 48 percent of respondents saying they haven't heard about the candidate to form an opinion.
"The lack of name recognition... is a huge hurdle to overcome in less than three weeks," Quinnipiac pollster Mary Snow said.