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Cuomo, Molinaro spar in lively debate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican challenger, Marc Molinaro, engaged in a testy debate that centered on corruption in state government and the candidate’s views - and relationships - with President Donald Trump.

In a debate aired on CBS2 in New York City and simulcast on the radio, the candidates often talked over each other and the moderators, and traded insults. The rapid fire exchanges grew even testier over the topic of corruption in state government.

Challenger Molinaro brought up the bribery and bid rigging convictions of several former Cuomo associates.

“This is stealing from taxpayers, you have allowed individuals in this administration to defraud taxpayers ” said Molinaro. “Anywhere else in America, no governor could possibly be running for re-election.”

Cuomo, who was never directly implicated in the convictions, accused Molinaro of getting his wife a job with a contractor that did business with Dutchess County, where Molinaro is the County Executive.

“And then you lied about it on your disclosure form, and you cannot deny it,” Cuomo said. “And that’s a crime, my friend.”

Democratic lawmakers in the Dutchess County legislature are calling on the New York Attorney General and the state ethics commission to investigate  alleged pay to play actions by Molinaro. A spokeswoman for the campaign, Katherine Delgado, has called the charges “pathetic and groundless.”

Cuomo and Molinaro also sparred over who is closer to President Donald Trump. Cuomo, who frequently denounces Trump and his policies, tried to pin down Molinaro on whether the GOP candidate is a Trump supporter.

“Do you support Donald Trump?” Cuomo asked Molinaro repeatedly. “You can’t answer it.”  

Molinaro never directly responded, but he has said he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 election. The Republican candidate then turned the tables on Cuomo, pointing out that the Democratic governor was once friendly with Trump when he was a real estate developer in New York City.

“You accepted $60,000 from Donald Trump and haven’t returned it,” said Molinaro, referring to past campaign contributions from Trump to Cuomo. “And, you sir, had him at your bachelor party. I didn’t.”  

Trump did not attend the governor’s party, held in the late 1990s, in person, but sent a humorous video tape. 

The two also discussed legalizing marijuana, which both now support, and the abortion rights protections in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Cuomo wants to codify those provisions into New York State law, while Molinaro says Roe is “settled law” and no more needs to be done.

There was one question about Upstate New York: whether the state should pay for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills. Both candidates said no.

Three other candidates in the race were not invited to the debate. Independent and former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and the Libertarian Party’s Larry Sharpe will appear, along with Molinaro, in another debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters Nov. 1. So far, Cuomo has not committed to participating.

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.