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Candidates for governor on the right and the left have much in common

Karem DeWitt

Andrew Cuomo has two main challengers in the governor’s race: Cynthia Nixon on the left and Marc Molinaro on the right. Surprisingly, the two agree on a number of key items as they make their case against the incumbent governor, including a laser-like focus on Cuomo’s perceived weaknesses.

Both candidates have focused on what they say are deep problems with Cuomo’s multi-billion-dollar economic development programs. Some of the deals made between the state and developers have led to an ongoing series of corruption trials for several of the governor’s former associates. Cuomo’s former closest aide already has been convicted of bribery.

Cynthia Nixon, who is running to the left of Cuomo in the Democratic primary, was in Buffalo recently to critique the governor’s Buffalo Billion program. Cuomo has touted the plan as revitalizing the Rust Belt city.

But Nixon says it’s been too focused on giving money to a single major developer.

“The money is going to people who are great contributors of the governor’s” Nixon said. “There is very little oversight.”

The developer, LPCiminelli — which built the Solar City plant, the centerpiece of the Buffalo Billion project — is now part of an upcoming corruption trial in federal district court.

Nixon says state-funded economic development needs to do more to benefit the people who live there.

“There is very little job creation without strings attached,” Nixon said.

Marc Molinaro, the likely Republican candidate for governor, also is criticizing Cuomo’s economic development plans. He said they are too opaque and susceptible to corruption. He said he’d make them more transparent.

“To call it economic development is a bit of an exaggeration,” Molinaro said. “I would first start by freezing direct payments to private industry until and unless we adopt comprehensive procurement policies and reforms.”

Nixon said it should not come as a surprise that she and Molinaro agree that corruption should end.

“I think disgust with corruption, particularly in government, is a bipartisan issue,” Nixon said.

A spokeswoman for Governor Cuomo’s campaign says the governor actually reformed previous economic development practices, scrapping the notorious legislative member items, known as pork barrel projects, for regional approaches led by local leaders.  And spokeswoman Abbey Fashouer says as soon as the governor learned that his former top aide was charged with corruption, he hired an outside firm to assess any weak points and corrected the system to “to increase transparency and accountability”.

“The Governor has fundamentally transformed the state’s economic development strategy by creating a locally-driven, bottom-up process that has proven effective – with a record 8.1 million private sector jobs in New York and unemployment down to its lowest levels in over a decade at 4.6 percent,” Fashouer said in a statement.

The governor’s economic development chair, Buffalo area businessman Howard Zemsky, also defended the programs. In a statement sent by the Cuomo campaign, Zemsky said the reforms include “the adoption of revised bylaws” and new senior management.

Nixon and Molinaro also slam Cuomo for what they say is his poor treatment of women. Nixon, during the budget talks in late March, accused Cuomo of leaving the lone female legislative leader, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, out of the private budget talks conducted by the governor and three male legislative leaders. Nixon called the meetings, held at the governor’s ceremonial residence, “four men in a mansion.”

Molinaro also spoke up for Stewart-Cousins, even though she is from the opposing party, saying it was “inexcusable” that a “talented capable woman in leadership” was left out of the talks, which included devising a new statewide policy against sexual harassment.

Cuomo is not alone in leaving minority party leaders out of the budget talks. His predecessors did the same.

The two even agree that there is too much money in politics. Cuomo has a $30 million campaign war chest, and Nixon and Molinaro have far less.

“It is obscene to able to raise that kind of money,” Molinaro said.

They both want to close a loophole in state campaign finance laws that allows donors to use limited liability companies, or LLCs, to skirt donation limits.

Cuomo has proposed a bill to close the LLC loophole for the past several years, but it has stalled in the state Senate.

Molinaro said if he and Nixon hold similar positions on some issues, it’s because they are symptoms of discontent among the electorate.

“Cynthia Nixon’s campaign and my campaign are all about a growing displeasure with a man who seems to think that all answers begins and end with him,” he said.

Nixon and Molinaro, of course, do disagree on some big issues.

Nixon wants to repeal the state’s property tax cap begun by Cuomo, and she disagrees with voluntary limits by the governor to keep state spending growth at about 2 percent per year.

Molinaro says property taxes, and all taxes in New York, are too high.

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.