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Five takeaways from the Andrew Cuomo-Cynthia Nixon debate

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon arrive

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon arrive for their debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead on Aug. 29. Credit: Pool/Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Here are five key takeaways from the Andrew Cuomo/Cynthia Nixon debate at Hofstra University:

Things got testy

Nixon didn’t keep her go-to line sheathed for long. After Nixon repeatedly interrupted Cuomo, in between her eye rolls and dramatic incredulous looks, the governor finally turned to her and said: “Can you stop interrupting?”

“Can you stop lying?” Nixon said, drawing some gasps from the small audience.

“Yeah,” Cuomo shot back. “As soon as you do.”

Nixon’s interruptions and sharp rebukes were aimed in part at unleashing Cuomo’s anger, an open secret in Albany among his staff and reporters. But Cuomo made no outbursts, although his facial expressions showed he was clearly annoyed.

“You can’t have so many accusations that are so false,” Cuomo said.

Experience an issue

Cuomo sought to show that his experience in government is a requirement for the job and is essential for grasping complex issues.

“You live in the world of fiction. I live in the world of facts,” Cuomo said. He listed terrorism, natural disasters and working with a difficult State Legislature as among the hard tasks of a governor that he implied aren’t faced by an actress.

“It’s about doing, it’s about managing,” he said. “This is real life.”

Nixon, asked to explain her qualifications for the job, was left mostly talking about organizing rallies for social causes and running advocacy organizations, although she also had directed a play. But she made it clear that experience isn’t everything.

“I’m not an Albany insider like Governor Cuomo, but I think experience doesn’t mean that much if you aren’t actually good at governing.”

Targeting Trump

Cuomo sometimes tried to avoid direct confrontation with Nixon and instead targeted Republican President Donald Trump more than a half-dozen times.

“You have to fight Donald Trump,” Cuomo said. “The largest threat today is President Trump; he is attacking everything we believe in.”

Cuomo used Trump to try to deflect Nixon’s argument that the Cuomo administration has underfunded the New York City transit system, resulting in record delays. Cuomo said Trump promised federal funding that never came.

Cuomo also said his experience and savvy are what are needed to stop Trump policies on immigration and the erosion of rights for unionized workers and gay, lesbian and transgender people.

“No one has stood up to Donald Trump more than I have,” Cuomo said.

Nixon fired back, saying that when Trump tweeted his contempt for Cuomo’s statement that “America was never that great,” Cuomo “backed down pretty quickly, about as well as Trump did to Putin.”

Hyperbole used as a tool

Each candidate spun facts to attack the other.

Cuomo repeatedly accused Nixon of being “a corporation,” implying that corporate money is poisoning politics and that operators of the corporations pay less in taxes.

“You are a corporation … you donated to the mayor,” Cuomo said. “You are a corporation.”

The reality is that Nixon has a small business, which produces plays and other theatrical events.

Nixon repeatedly accused Cuomo of being corrupt, citing the Moreland Commission on Public Integrity, which Cuomo abruptly shut down after striking an ethics deal with State Legislature, and the conviction of a top aide, Joseph Percoco, on corruption charges.

“He shut down the Moreland Commission … when it came too close him,” Nixon said. “Joe Percoco was his most trusted adviser and he is headed to jail … either Joe Percoco was doing something that the governor wanted him to do, or his right-hand man did something that the governor didn’t know about.”

Cuomo was never accused of wrongdoing in the Percoco case and the governor, who created the Moreland Commission, had the legal power to shutter it.

Some issues not raised

Moderators didn’t ask the candidates how they would pay for their agendas or the related economic question of how to effectively grow jobs.

Those business issues might not be at the top of concerns of New York City Democrats, who will dominate voting on Sept.13, but they will be major issues in the fall campaign for the winner facing Republican nominee Marc Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive.

For example, moderators didn’t touch on Nixon’s primary issue of school aid. She has called for an increase in school aid of more than $1 billion. Cuomo wasn’t asked about the effectiveness of his program to boost the economy by making the state more business-friendly.

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