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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo, Nixon engage in political hype in their debate at Hofstra

Cynthia Nixon speaks at the Democratic gubernatorial primary

Cynthia Nixon speaks at the Democratic gubernatorial primary debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead on Wednesday Aug.29, 2018 Photo Credit: Newsday/Pool/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

This one-shot Democratic debate for governor delivered the furious and at times exaggerated crossfire you might expect between an elected executive with a two-term record and a first-time candidate claiming the baggage-free status of a crusading outsider.

Accuracy, caution and moderation became casualties as expected. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon exchanged charges of lying and distortion as both engaged in the kind of political hype that turns gray areas into black-and-white.

Among the less-solid claims from challenger Nixon was that her opponent "stole" hundreds of dollars in transit funds for "pet projects" and that he'd "broken" the subways. She said the Democratic governor ceded "control" of the Senate to the rival Republican Party, which has been a matter of debate for years.

On transit funding, Cuomo launched into an explanation that allowed him to highlight his demands that Nixon ally and his foe, Mayor Bill de Blasio, bear a bigger share of costs. It surely wasn't a straighforward audit of the problem with transit maintenance and financing by the sprawling state-controlled MTA.

Defending against her suggestion that he's a corrupt parallel to President Donald Trump in Washington and deflecting the odor of criminal prosecutions of people close to him, Cuomo tried to cast Nixon as a corporate donor herself who solicited "favors" from her friend de Blasio.

"You're a corporation," he said, faulting the allegedly minimal way by which she disclosed her income tax forms. She noted that in his first race for governor in 2010, his disclosure followed the election. She said her business corporation is that of a small business owner.

Also hyperbolically, Cuomo called agents of the Immigration Custom Enforcement agency "a bunch of thugs" whom Trump had politically "polarized."  

In a general-election race, there might be a flatter comparison of facts and records. This is a debate for a nomination in which the candidate vies to show he or she has the more progressive intention, based on the party mood. So it becomes tricky to assess Nixon's defense of her proposing that public workers be allowed to strike under state law. 

In that context, she raises eyebrows when she makes the allegation, "There is no real way for public sector workers to get a better contract other than cozying up to someone like Gov. Cuomo." That could be the basis of a whole new debate in itself. 

Cuomo jumped the shark when he said "I was never at war with labor unions."

For some time during his tenure, his labor alliances were strictly in the private trade organizations while he was clashing with public-sector unions. In his first term, for example, much controversy centered on a hard push to drive down the wage and pension costs of the state workforce. There were also loud protests from teachers over his position on job evaluations.

Facts were obscured one way or another on Wednesday when Nixon was said to be worth "tens of millions" of dollars -- and she suggested her weatlh is exaggerated all over the internet. That one might or might not be explored further as the Sept. 13 primary nears.


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