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Cuomo and Molinaro to debate; minor party candidates shut out

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After some back-and-forth, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Marc Molinaro have agreed to a debate that will be held in New York City on Tuesday.

The deal comes after the New York Post featured on its front page for two days in a row a digitally edited image  of Cuomo in a chicken suit, to illustrate what they said was the governor’s reluctance to agree to terms of a debate.

Candidate Marc Molinaro made that announcement Monday morning.

Tuesday's debate will be broadcast by WCBS Radio and then in the evening by WCBS Television in New York beginning at 7 p.m. According to Molinaro, it will be made available to CBS affiliates throughout the state.

Cuomo, seeking a third term, is far ahead of Molinaro in the polls and in fundraising. He has sought to link Molinaro to President Donald Trump, saying Republicans can't be trusted to run the state.

Molinaro, the Dutchess County executive, has criticized Cuomo for his handling of the economy, taxes and political corruption. Molinaro is pressing the incumbent to participate in more debates beyond this one.

"Upstate New Yorkers are about to become an endangered species and we owe it to them to have a serious debate about the issues that face the rest of New York," Molinaro said. "So they deserve their voices to be heard."

Molinaro said there should be more than one debate, in order to discuss Upstate New York issues.

"We are one state and, therefore, it is necessary for us to have more than one debate," he said, "and certainly to ensure that the voters in Upstate New York and throughout the rest of the State of New York have an opportunity to listen, to watch and to learn from the two of us."

Cuomo previously offered to debate Molinaro this past Saturday morning, but the latter rejected that time. Cuomo's campaign issued a brief written statement Monday about the debate: "After days of ducking the debate, we’re glad Marc Molinaro has finally agreed. See you tomorrow."

The minor party candidates for Governor, representing the Libertarian, Green and Save America Movement parties, have been shut out of the WCBS debate. They are dismayed over not being included.

Independent candidate for governor and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said a single debate, downstate, “hurts democracy.”

“Fundamental to our democracy is the idea that voters deserve to hear from you ,” Miner said. “Andrew Cuomo is doing a disservice to this state by not allowing that to happen.”

Miner said incumbent governors in other states who, like Cuomo, are ahead in the polls have still agreed to hold several debates with their opponents. 

One other debate in the governor’s race is planned for  Nov. 1 in Albany and will be hosted by the League of Women Voters and the College of Saint Rose.

The League’s Jennifer Wilson said Molinaro, Miner, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe have all accepted. Cuomo has so far not said yes.

“We can’t force him to be there,” Wilson said, “but if he doesn’t come, we are going to honor those four candidates who will show up.”

Wilson said having just one debate between the two major party candidates is “unacceptable.”

“We really need to hear from all five candidates at the same time,” Wilson said, “so that voters can make an informed decision on Election Day.”

The Nov. 1  debate will be livestreamed on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, as well as on the League and College websites.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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.
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