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Gubernatorial Hopefuls Trade Barbs at Hofstra University Debate

Cuomo, Paladino Overshadowed By Oddball Fringe Candidates

Who won last Monday night’s first and only New York gubernatorial debate at Hofstra University? The answer may not be measured in a simple set of poll numbers, but rather in the comedic talents of a zany band of fringe candidates who towed the line between jabs and a few well-rehearsed punch lines.

News 12 hosted the 90-minute debate, which offered the seven gubernatorial candidates a chance to answer questions posed by News 12 anchor Doug Geed, Newsday columnist Joye Brown and the public. Despite a much-anticipated showdown between Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino, the two rivals remained cool while discussing solutions to the state’s most dire issues.

Joining the two major party hopefuls were third party candidates: Charles Barron (Freedom Party); Kristin Davis (Anti-Prohibition Party); Howie Hawkins (Green Party); Jimmy McMillan (Rent is 2 Damn High Party); and Warren Redlich (Libertarian Party).

Geed prefaced his first question of the night by saying that New York State will face an $8.2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year and, according to the census, there’s $13,000 of state debt for every man, woman and child in the state. Candidates were asked to name state programs they would cut and how to minimize those cuts on ordinary people.

Paladino responded that Medicaid reform should be first on the list to be eliminated. “We spent $54 billion last year on Medicaid. The next state was California, 100 percent lower than us. Our budget was equal to California and Texas combined. Our Medicaid costs are wrought with fraud, waste and abuse,” he said, adding that costs can be lowered with “good firm management.” He also pointed out that education mandates from Albany were being forced onto local school districts.

Sporting a Hulk-Hogan like mustache and a pair of black gloves, the affable ‘Rent is 2 Damn High’ Party candidate Jimmy McMillian spun his answer to serve his major platform of the rent being “too damn high.” He argued that under his governance, New York could receive a $3 trillion surplus by lowering rent for businesses and tenants.  

State Attorney General Cuomo agreed that New York was number one in spending in Medicaid and education but 40th in terms of performance. “We’re going to have to reduce the number of governments, we’re going to have to reduce the number of state programs, we’re going to have to cut Medicaid, and we’re going to have to find savings in education,” he said.

Charles Barron said cuts weren’t the answer but proposed a progressive taxation package where the rich pay more. “We are already cut to the bones; it’s time for us to get the wealthy and they make up 1 percent of this population,” he said. Hawkins also agreed with implementing a progressive income tax structure. “What we need to cut is tax cuts for the rich,” he said. The Green Party candidate emphasized that a “green new deal” was needed to make new job investments in clean energy and mass transit.

Former escort service owner Kristin Davis, who gained notoriety in the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal, commented that state spending was out of control and that she has “the only plan” to create new jobs and revenue. “The legalization of marijuana would bring in a billion and a half in new tax revenue and the legalization of casino gambling would bring in roughly 2 billion in tax revenue and an immediate 50,000 jobs,” Davis said.

Warren Redlich of Libertarian Party said the head of the New York Library makes $689,000 a year. “Now I know it’s a big library, but that’s a little much,” he said. “There are 110,000 bureaucrats in New York State who make over $100,000 a year. We can save nearly $3 billion if we cap bureaucrat pay at $100,000 a year and cap pensions at $75,000,” Redlich added.

Brown asked the candidates if they favor a state mandated cap on local property taxes and what they would do to specifically help school districts recover lost revenues. McMillian responded that plans were already set in motion by the Obama Administration and just need to be executed. “It’s a cancer, it will heal itself if you go about it in the right measures,” McMillian said.

Paladino focused his answer on bringing down property taxes, which he claimed are 60 percent higher than the national mean. “Our mandates coming from the board of education in Albany are debilitating to our local school districts,” he said.

Cuomo talked about getting property taxes down in two ways.  “Number one, the state has to reduce what they call the unfunded mandates—all the rules and regulations on what schools must do. But second, and markedly, we just have too many governments in the state of New York; 10,500 governments. Hundreds of governments in every county. Town, village, lighting district, water district, sewer district—you have to consolidate those governments,” Cuomo said.

Redlich said the problem is a policy adopted by school districts, which he says cuts teaching positions but not administrators. “It’s the no administrator left behind policy. We have to cut spending,” Redlich said.

Vowing to fight corruption in Albany has been the source of many campaign promises and candidates were asked what they would do to restore the public’s trust. Cuomo maintained that new ethics laws are needed. “We have to have zero tolerance for any waste, fraud, abuse, or public integrity or public corruption violation, period. Enforce the laws. That’s what I’ve been doing as attorney general, for Democrats and Republicans: if you break the law, you will go to jail. And yes, I’ve put people in jail. And yes, it was hard. But that’s what we’re going to have to do if we’re going to restore the trust in this government,” Cuomo said.

Charles Barron said that you cannot legislate morality but you can regulate behavior. He focused his remarks on the two major party candidates. “For Andrew Cuomo to sit here and say he is tough on corruption, well how come his buddy, Vito Lopez, who’s been corrupt for a long time, he’s just getting around to even thinking about dealing with him,” he said.

Barron said he would hire a commission and an independent agency to look at corruption. “Asking Andrew and Carl Paladino to end corruption, it’s like asking an arsonist to help us to put out the fires; it doesn’t make sense,” Barron said. Hawkins chimed in that in order to end corruption, private campaign financing must end. “Public elections should be publicly financed because they’re a public function,” Hawkins said.

Redlich also took a shot at the Democrat and Republican candidates and their campaign contributions. “Mr. Cuomo has taken $23 million in special interests contributions (over 800) of $10,000 or more. But if that is not what you want, Mr. Paladino cuts out the middleman. He’s his own special interest. Somebody explain why a supposedly conservative Republican is giving money to Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer and John Kerry. It’s because he is trying to buy something,” Redlich said. Paladino had the opportunity to rebut Redlich, but visibly restrained himself and stated that voters want “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Another question came from a viewer who asked what the next governor is going to do to audit the M.T.A.’s books and cut high executive salaries in order to get better service. Davis wanted the agency under the direct control of the governor to ensure accountability for the waste and fraud. “The key difference between the M.T.A. and my former escort agency is that I operated one set of books, and my former agency delivered on-time and reliable service,” Davis said.

Hawkins said the M.T.A has become an ATM machine for the big banks. “The board should be elected by the public to make it accountable,” he said. Cuomo noted that nobody is in charge of the M.T.A. “Put the governor in charge. If it doesn’t work, it should be up to the governor and everybody should know,” he said.

During closing statements, Barron said the Freedom Party addresses the issues of grassroots people in local communities and the disproportion of the distribution of income and wealth. “Paladino is not going to win. Don’t let Cuomo scare you into saying ‘Don’t vote for anyone else but him ‘cause we’ll get Paladino.’ That boogey-man tactic is played out. We think the Freedom Party has the right message,” Barron said.

Redlich summated that he is the only candidate with a “specific plan to cut spending,” while Hawkins vowed that now is the time to establish the Green Party as the third major party. Davis informed voters that she is running for governor to highlight the inequities in the political system and to advocate a series of reforms geared toward economic growth to the state. McMillian reiterated his mission to reduce rent and the cost of living across the state so that parents can be home with their children.

Paladino, who has made headlines for his outspoken views, distinguished himself as a builder and not a career politician. “My critics, they want to say I’m angry. No, I’m passionate about saving New York,” Paladino said. “My plan scares to death these politicians in Albany. That’s why they call me crazy.”

Cuomo said he has been all across the state in the last few months and understands the voters’ disgust at dysfunction in Albany and has a plan to restore it to its past distinction. “No state has anything on New York State and we’re going to make this state the Empire state again. Don’t you think twice about that,” he said.