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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Marc Molinaro tussle over debate terms

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Dutchess County

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, left, and Dutchess County Executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro will debate on WCBS at 10 a.m. Tuesday.  Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a live radio interview Friday abruptly agreed to finally debate his Republican rival, but only on a New York City radio station early Saturday morning. 

Just as abruptly, Republican nominee Marc Molinaro refused the debate under Cuomo's conditions. Molinaro said the time and venue make for too narrow an audience. He blasted the conditions set by Cuomo as a fraud on voters.

In a radio interview Friday morning on WCBS, Cuomo, pushed by the hosts, agreed to debate on Saturday at the radio station.

"I am here, if you want to call me tomorrow, I will be here. If you want to do it with Mr. Molinaro, I will be here. If you want to moderate a discussion, I will be here," Cuomo said. "But just let me know because it's my daughter's parents' weekend at college. So you want to do it same time, same place? I'm here."

Molinaro called Cuomo's proposition a fraud because it would be on a Saturday at 8 a.m. without much public notice only on a New York City radio station without TV cameras.

Molinaro said in an afternoon news conference that he won’t participate in a WCBS radio interview Saturday morning because it is a fraud perpetuated by Cuomo that fails to serve voters.

“It isn’t a debate if the rest of the state doesn’t get to participate,” Molinaro said. “The minute you succumb to a bully, you lose.”

He said he will meet with Cuomo’s campaign next week to plan a televised, statewide debate in the evening.

“I will not allow New Yorkers to participate in a fraud and be used as pawns in a political theater production,” Molinaro said.

Cuomo’s campaign on Friday tweeted a Molinaro quote from months ago when he riffed with a nod to Dr. Seuss that he would debate Cuomo anywhere, anytime, even “standing up, sitting down, in a chair, at the fair — with a fox, in a box, in a plane, on a train.”

Pressure on Cuomo, who is ahead in the polls and has millions of dollars more campaign cash than Molinaro, included a front-page photo illustration in the New York Post of Cuomo in a chicken suit for being afraid to debate Molinaro.

"This situation vindicates what the governor has said all along, which is Mr. Molinaro only wants to 'debate the debate,'" said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever. "The governor will take his campaign to the people directly. If the New York Post had any objectivity, we would see Mr. Molinaro in a chicken suit tomorrow."

The League of Women Voters, which once set standards for most debates before debate arrangements were set by campaigns with host TV stations, said it will try to stage a debate. The nonprofit group said it has created a GoFundMe account to pay for a debate that would be streamed live on the internet.

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