Cuomo and Nixon spar in Governor Democratic Primary Debate
by Noah Kotlarek
Staff Political Analyst
On August 29th, Governor Andrew Cuomo and actress activist Cynthia Nixon, parleyed over who would make a better Democratic candidate to run in the New York gubernatorial race. Cuomo came dressed in blue tie and his official Cuomo administration pin. Nixon wore a simple teal blouse and a white sportscoat.
Commentator Maurice DuBois asked the first question, how would Nixon be able to run the government with no prior political experience. Nixon skirted around the question saying that she has always been a New Yorker and cares about LGBT and women’s rights as well as improving the educational system. She commented on Cuomo’s two terms as governor, “Experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re not actually good at governing.” After interjection from DuBois, she referenced her time as an activist organizing rallies and meeting with legislatures to discuss public school funding.
Cuomo started off by distancing himself from Trump, ensuring the audience that New York would have their flags at half-mast out of respect for Senator McCain regardless of what Washington (Trump) does. Distancing himself from Trump would become a common theme for him throughout out the debate. As for Nixon’s experience, Cuomo believes that governing is more than leading a rally. The job involves managing hundred-billion-dollar budgets, fighting terrorism, and making quick and rash decisions in the face of natural disaster. Being the Governor is not just advocacy, it’s action. Cuomo also made the claim that Trump is the greatest threat to New York. Soon after, the commentators asked the governor if he promises not to run for president if he wins the gubernatorial election. Cuomo pledged to do so with one caveat: if God strikes him dead with a lightning bolt.
Nixon replied arguing that Trump’s corruption cannot be fought by Andrew Cuomo, a man who is just as corrupt. Applause. She next scolded him for failing to expand accessibility to driver licenses for immigrants and failing to tackle climate change. Cuomo reminded Nixon that “New York state is the only state suing Donald Trump for ripping babies from the arms of their mothers.”
The subject then came to mass transit and New York’s crumbling infrastructure. Governor Cuomo assured the crowd that the legislature was working to fix the state and reminded them of the one-hundred billion-dollar effort to remodel and repair New York airports. Nixon did not mention state projects, rather she criticized Cuomo’s handling of the New York City subway system (MTA). “Fares tripled under Cuomo,” Cuomo stole millions from the MTA for his “pet projects,” and “Cuomo used the MTA like an ATM” were a few of the phrases Nixon used in attempt to undermine Cuomo. Cuomo defending himself saying that the MTA is run by New York City, not the state. He supports a 50/50 state-city thirty-three billion-dollar effort to repair the lines. Both candidates agreed that they would not raise fare hikes due to the poor quality of service.
Cuomo finished off saying, “My opponent lives in the world of fiction, I live in the world of fact.” This was just the beginning of Cuomo’s fact versus fiction comparisons when Nixon would argue that Cuomo has not done enough.
On healthcare, Cynthia Nixon supports a single-payer system, because though her plan is estimated to cost the state 139 billion-dollars according to RAND, for 98% of New Yorkers it would cost less than what they are already paying for healthcare. Further, it would allow companies to hire an additional 200,000 workers. Nixon’s system would cover the one million New Yorkers who are uninsured and those who are underinsured. Cuomo too wants a single-payer system but claims it would be too costly for the state government and must be run on the federal level. The governor then goes on a short rant about Trump.
The commentators then turned to a difficult issue for the governor: corruption in Cuomo’s camp. Cuomo responded claiming that Joseph Percoco’s bribery convictions along with his other aides’ convictions had nothing to do with him. The governor said he will not tolerate any outside income for state employees and when if the senate turns blue he will work towards campaign finance reform (eliminating campaign donations from corporations). Nixon clapped back asserting that Cuomo received 16 million-dollars from the LLC loop hole (which she promises to close) and that Cuomo “shut down corruption investigations when they came to close to him.”
The actress and activist also seems to believe that campaign finance reform is easy. Cuomo brought back his fact versus fiction argument, “to pass campaign finance reform laws you need something called the New York legislature, you don’t just snap your fingers as governor.” He then claimed that Nixon donated to the mayor in exchange for favors and that she files her taxes as a corporation. Later in the debate, Nixon responded saying that many actors and actresses file their taxes as a corporation, just like many small business owners.
With regards to marijuana, Nixon supports the legalization of it for the racial justice benefits of it. According to Nixon, all races smoke the same amount dope but 80% of the marijuana related arrests are of black and Latino people, “Marijuana has been legal for white people, it’s time for it to be legal for everybody else.” Nixon plans to adopt and Oakland and Massachusetts model. She plans to use the revenue from a marijuana tax to invest in the black and Latino communities which have been targeted for marijuana related arrests. The revenue will also go to helping make the transition from jail back to regular society easier for convicts. To parents concerned about their children using marijuana Nixon says that whether or not marijuana is legal or illegal people will still do it. Cuomo believes that racial and criminal justice does not start with the legalization of weed but with reforms to the housing and educational system along with good job opportunities. However, Cuomo does support the legalization of the drug. When asked what he tells his kids about marijuana he dodged the question saying that he’s told them what they need to know to be safe. Nixon shot back saying the last year Cuomo was against the legalization but flip flopped because she was running. Cuomo responded saying that he changed his mind in January, before Nixon announced her campaign this March.
As for the Mario Cuomo bridge, Andrew Cuomo confirmed that the toll is frozen until 2020 and the bridge will not be called the Mario Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge. Nixon believes that former Governor Mario Cuomo deserves to have something named after him but not while his son is running for office.
Nixon will remove upstate troopers from bridges, highways, and city streets if she takes office and will in fact reduce police spending in all areas. Nixon wants “less investment in law enforcement and more investment in things that really make a difference.” Cuomo defending his team of upstate troopers in New York City claiming that they are only there to run the tolls, a state-run program.
The most exciting moments of the debate occurred when the two candidates fought over tax plans and tax releases. Nixon claimed that Cuomo gave tax breaks millionaires and billionaires while she cares about the middle class. Cuomo responded saying his administration passed the most progressive tax in the history of New York, three times over. Nixon argued that she was the more transparent candidate as she released her taxes before the election whilst in 2010 Cuomo released his taxes after he secured his position as governor. Cuomo: “Only Donald Trump has done less transparency on taxes than my opponent.”
The pressure continued as labor was discussed. Cuomo promised that he was working on increasing paid leave for child birth to be twelve weeks instead from eight. He is also considering paid leave after the death of a close family member and stated that the “hallmark” of his political life has been standing up for the working class. Nixon believes that Cuomo does not really care about the workers but rather has been forced to support them for votes and is in fact at war with labor. Unfortunately for Nixon, this was the perfect lead for the governor’s brightest moment in the debate. Cuomo calmly extended his right arm towards the crowd and asked, “How am I with labor?” The audience immediately erupted in a shower of loud applause, whistling, hooting, and hollering. The governor reclined back in his chair with a big smug grin.
Onwards. Nixon wants public sector workers to be allowed to strike without penalty. On the contrary, Cuomo thinks this is dangerous. He is afraid that without penalty, schools, transit systems, sanitation produces, and consequently the city will be shut down causing greater problems. Nixon provided a good argument that the workers are not looking to recklessly strike. She argues that that in order for the labor union to be effective it needs the support of the public, not something it will win by shutting down the city, so strikes without penalty are not a real threat.
The debate ended by both candidates agreeing that the homeless should not be forced into to shelters by the police but rather the government adopt a safe haven program. The two candidates also refused to admit if they wanted or did not want Mayor Blasio’s endorsement. The biggest moment for Nixon was when she said she’ll turn down the governor’s salary if she wins the election. They then proceeded to shake hands.