The debate that wasn’t

21 Oct
Talking loud and saying nothing is a phrase some armchair and professional pundits alike are using to describe last Monday’s gubernatorial debate. Little was gained or learned, “unless you appreciated the comedy of it,” State Senator Bill Perkins told the AmNews.

To call Monday night’s event a gubernatorial debate would be an overstatement, considering the fact that the candidates vying for the governorship barely spoke to each other but, rather, answered questions about what they would do if elected governor.The seven candidates took to the stage at Hofstra University in their highly anticipated, and only, debate just weeks before the general election.

Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo and Republican and Tea Party darling candidate Carl Paladino were joined by Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron, Howie Hakins of the Green Party, Libertarian Party candidate Warren Redlich, Manhattan madam Kristen Davis of the Anti-Prohibition Party and, adding a special flare, Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is Too Damn High Party.

“It didn’t really provide the opportunity to debate the kind of issues concerning our community,” said Perkins. “It was kind of a missed opportunity and, in a way, it was a free ride for Cuomo because he didn’t say anything. He just wasn’t rigorous enough. As the leading candidate, he didn’t get tested to speak to the issues of concern for our community, especially with Charles Barron.”

Perkins said the debate needed to be about the candidates’ responses to the Black and Hispanic communities’ issues like “the housing crisis and the job crisis, the state of the police/community relations and the take-over of our schools by the charter movement. It also wasn’t much of an opportunity for the Freedom Party to represent their issues.” Perkins said Barron made some strong points like when he said that Cuomo intended to “lay people off and that he was the candidate who should be governor, but the bad structure of the debate didn’t allow for that to be adequately dealt with.”

The 90-minute debate, in front of a full house and broadcast statewide, put all candidates in one place at the same time for the first time. So-called frontrunners in the race, Paladino and Cuomo, were clouded by the five other candidates who got much-needed air time in front of voters who may be interested in voting for them.

A series of questions was asked by two moderators from News 12 and Newsday, who sponsored the debate, followed by each candidate giving a 90- or 60-second answer. Some questions allowed for a 30-second rebuttal.

Topics of the questions touched on corruption in Albany, the environment, jobs, education and the MTA.

Cuomo did his best to sway voters his way, with his promise to reform Albany if elected. He also said that the state is spending money it doesn’t have, and he wants to cut waste and fraud. Cuomo vowed that anyone convicted of corruption in Albany will go to jail.

“To lead, we need to have zero tolerance for any waste, fraud, abuse of public integrity, of public corruption—period,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been doing as attorney general—on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans. Yes, I put people in jail and yes, it was hard.”

Paladino turned down his usual fiery demeanor, trading it for a calmer presentation, never mentioning Cuomo by name. Notably, he left during the debate stage to take a bathroom break during the closing statements. He also didn’t seem to understand instructions during rebuttals or during a short answer segment about gay marriage.

The Republican candidate said that Medicaid and property tax were “out of control” and called the state Board of Education “destructive” and referred to the MTA as a poster child of waste.

Candidate for the newly formed Freedom Party, Barron, was one of the few candidates to attack both Paladino and Cuomo. Reiterating his stance that if either is elected, voters will get the same thing, he said voting for him would make the state better.

“Asking Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino to end corruption is like asking an arsonist to put out fires,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense. Cuomo’s going to be the king of layoffs, trust me, if he gets in office. That’s why you better go with me, I’m telling you. If this guy gets in, you’re going to be laid off.”

In response to that statement, Cuomo took a quick jab, saying that if voters go with Barron, there would be no jobs.

Taking on the issue of high rents, McMillan put on a show and was called by many the winner of the debate. With gloves on his hands and his signature sideburns and white hair, McMillan maintained his stance that the “Rent is Too Damn High” and problems in the state would be solved if rents were lower.

Folk better get their Election Day plans down pat, said Imhotep Gary Byrd, WLIB/WBLS radio host. He said the debate showed the need for proper representation. “I think the debate was a clear platform for all New Yorkers, but especially for Blacks and Latinos to see why there is a critically important need for there to be a Freedom Party. The interests of people of color, especially in this economic climate, have to be represented by people who have a strong relationship with our community…We need to come out and vote on November 2.”

And Perkins thinks this will be the one and only chance we will see the candidates. “I don’t think Cuomo wants any more debates, because he got what he wanted with this one, which was nothing touched him in any meaningful way. Paladino’s performance made Cuomo look better, by him being so bad,” Perkins said.


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