Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Republican challenger Marc Molinaro had a raucous, strident exchange Tuesday in their first and only scheduled debate as they fought to seize control of the questions and tar the other as corrupt.
There was little in the way of specific solutions on how to run New York for the next four years. Or mentions about Long Island. Or upstate New York.
Instead, the exchange, hosted by WCBS/2 and WCBS/880 AM radio, featured a lot of references to President Donald Trump, selective representations of the other’s record and lots of talk about investigations and accusations. Neither candidate did much to follow the rules about sticking to one-minute responses or even the question at hand. And they ran roughshod over the moderators, often questioning each other directly.
Finally, near the end, WCBS moderator Marcia Kramer exclaimed: “Don’t make me punch you out!” to Cuomo as he sought to extend his time on one topic.
Cuomo, in particular, repeatedly seized control from the moderators with direct, repeated questions to his opponent, such as, "Do you support Donald Trump? Do you support Donald Trump? Do you support Donald Trump?” and “Did you oppose medical marijuana?"
The tactic often worked in getting Molinaro to switch topics, although the Republican called the governor a “bully” for doing so.
With two weeks to go before Election Day, the candidates largely tried to stick to their respective campaign themes, no matter the topic raised by the moderators.
Cuomo, a Democrat seeking his third term, touted himself as the “most aggressive governor” in the nation “when it comes to building” infrastructure. He said he cut income tax rates, held spending to modest growth and enacted progressive laws such as same-sex marriage.
Molinaro noted he cut taxes as Dutchess County executive, and promised to fix the finances of the troubled metro New York City mass transit system.
But Molinaro sought primarily to bash Cuomo by referring to two corruption trials earlier this year that tainted some of the governor’s economic-development projects. Cuomo’s former top aide, Joseph Percoco, and some campaign contributors were among those convicted.
“Governor, you have led the most corrupt government in America,” Molinaro said. “Anywhere else in America, no other governor could possibly be running for re-election.”
Cuomo countered: “No one is saying I did anything wrong . . . Because it was a two-year investigation and the U.S. attorney said I had nothing to do with anything."
In the same breath, Cuomo went on the offensive. He said Molinaro’s wife got a job with a campaign contributor (which is an allegation the governor has used in a campaign ad).
“Your county legislature is calling for an investigation on you for kickbacks and perjury,” Cuomo said.
Molinaro said the accusation wasn’t true.
The Democrat often sought to make the discussion national — invoking Trump, who isn’t popular in New York, and seeking to paint Molinaro as the president’s acolyte.
Even a question that began about the homeless in New York City morphed into a Trump debate, with Cuomo taking control and asking Molinaro: “Do you support Trump?”
It’s a line he repeated about six times, before concluding, “You can’t answer that.” And when Molinaro hesitated, Cuomo added: “But you already have.”
Molinaro told the moderators, “Let’s get out of this question.”
On the campaign trail, Molinaro has said that he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016 and that he supports some of the president’s policies but not all.
Seeking to turn it back on Cuomo at one point, Molinaro noted the Democrat received $60,000 in campaign contributions from Trump (years ago, when Cuomo ran for attorney general) and that “you had him at your bachelor party, I didn’t.”
“I don’t support him. You do,” Cuomo answered.
They battled over mass transit, with Molinaro noting steep declines in “on time” train performance and saying the governor didn’t invest in fixing the system. Cuomo countered that the Republican’s promise to rid the system of waste wouldn’t come close to providing the billions of dollars the system needs.
Neither would bite on whether public dollars should help provide the Buffalo Bills with a new football stadium. The one Long Island reference, about the graduation rate at Hempstead schools, was tucked into a question about troubled schools.
They cast doubt on implementing “single-payer health care” in New York — though, even there, Cuomo pivoted to criticize Trump’s health care proposals and tie Molinaro to them.
And neither ran out of barbs.
“You call yourself a fiscal conservative. You’re a fiscal fraud,” Cuomo said.
“Sir, your description of my life and record,” Molinaro responded later, “is so dishonest, it is absolutely shameful.”
Dueling quotes from the candidates
“You call yourself a fiscal conservative. You’re a fiscal fraud.” (on Molinaro’s record in Dutchess County).
“Do you support Donald Trump? Do you support Donald Trump? You can’t answer that … but then you already have.”
“Sir, your description of my life and record is so dishonest, it is absolutely shameful.”
“Governor, you have led the most corrupt government in America.”