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Two potential candidates for governor hold a civil discussion

Karen DeWitt

At an event that’s become increasingly rare in state politics, two politicians from opposing parties sat down together and had a civil discussion about issues facing New York.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a Democrat, and Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco spoke in Albany during a forum about state issues and politics. 

“To have a vibrant civic dialogue is important,” said Miner. “The fact that it’s been missing, we’ve all suffered for it.”

DeFrancisco, who also is from Syracuse, agreed.

“We have to have more open government and more dialogue,” DeFrancisco said. “And better policies.”

At the forum, held by the Bull Moose Club, a political and business venture, Miner and DeFrancisco disagreed — politely — on whether marijuana should be legal in the state. Miner is for it, DeFrancisco against it.

And they differed on the best strategy to increase voter participation. DeFrancisco said if politicians behaved better and talked about issues, more people would come to the polls. Miner said voter access needs to be expanded.

But Miner and DeFrancisco, who are both potential gubernatorial candidates, were united in their criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s economic development programs and the accompanying multimillion-dollar TV ad campaigns, which Miner called “sound bite government.”

She also critiqued the governor’s tax-free incentives program for new businesses, known as Start-Up New York. She said focusing on the state’s crumbling roads, bridges and aging sewer systems would work better.

“We have to go back to the basics of governing,” Miner said. “Let’s invest in our infrastructure.”

DeFrancisco agreed, saying small businesses are leaving the state because of the taxes and regulations, saying they can’t make money. He also took shots at an empty LED lighting factory near Syracuse, built with state funding. The project stalled after the construction company involved was charged with corruption. Officials at COR Development face trial in 2018.

“Some company out of God knows where getting $70 million, and by the way, the building still isn’t up,” DeFrancisco said. “That is so frustrating.”

DeFrancisco also criticized Cuomo for taking over the distribution of economic development project grants from the Legislature, calling the governor the “chief porkster.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Neither the senator nor the mayor would commit to actually launching a campaign for governor for the November 2018 elections. DeFrancisco said he’s continuing to travel the state and talk with county chairs.

“I’ll make a decision as soon as I possibly can,” he said “I don’t want a fool’s errand.”

But he said if there’s a chance to raise money and be a viable candidate, he will “go for it.”

Miner said she’s focused on wrapping up her time as mayor, which ends on Dec. 31. Term limits restricted her to two terms in office.

“What I’ve said to my family is, ‘I’m going to get some good sleep in and some good meals in,’ ” Miner said. “And then I’ll start thinking about it in earnest.”

Miner has said she is also considering a congressional race against House Rep. John Katko.

Both said they know it’s difficult for an upstate politician to make a successful run for governor. But they both believe that Cuomo, who has said he’ll seek a third term next year, will face a competitive opponent.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.