Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, left, shakes hands with Republican...

Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, left, shakes hands with Republican candidate Marc Molinaro, after a gubernatorial debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters at The College of Saint Rose Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY – Incumbent and frontrunner Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo didn’t show up in person. But he served as a punching bag for the other gubernatorial candidates at a debate Thursday.

Republican Marc Molinaro, Serve America Movement candidate Stephanie Miner, Green candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Larry Sharpe bashed the Democratic governor on taxes, mass transit and the loss of population in upstate New York.

They especially zeroed in on Cuomo’s economic development programs, which were linked to two major corruption trials earlier this year resulting in the conviction of former top Cuomo aide Joseph Percoco and several developers.

Each of the candidates said they would end the practice of giving direct grants to companies.

Miner said the Cuomo initiative “continued to give expensive tax benefits to people who, lo and behold, were campaign contributors.” She said “no data” supports the giveaways as an assured way of creating jobs. Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse, was once co-executive director of the state Democratic Party, but has become an outspoken Cuomo critic.

Hawkins and Miner said the money should go to infrastructure investments.

Sharpe disagreed. “Every time you hear ‘invest,’ it means more taxes,” the Libertarian said.

Hawkins criticized Cuomo’s college tuition-assistance plan as too limited to be considered a “free tuition” plan. He said he’d support free college tuition, single-payer health care and full reliance on “green” energy by 2030.

Molinaro said New Yorkers’ overall tax burden has increased since Cuomo took office in 2011. He wants the state to take over counties’ share of Medicaid costs, part of a plan he says will reduce local property taxes 30 percent over several years.

"I know how hard it is to live in the State of New York," Molinaro said in his closing statement, recalling a childhood on food stamps.

Cuomo, who enjoys a huge lead over Molinaro in the polls, declined the debate invitation from the state League of Women Voters. He has participated in just one debate – a one-on-one forum with Molinaro last week. Thursday, he participated in a “tele-town-hall” event with a state Senate candidate, his campaign said.

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