Andrew Cuomo, Marc Molinaro

CBS/WCBS 880

Sparks Fly As Cuomo, Molinaro Face Off In Only NY Gubernatorial Debate

October 23, 2018 - 8:02 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his GOP challenger Marc Molinaro squared off in their one and only debate Tuesday, sparring over a range of issues important to New Yorkers two weeks ahead of the November midterm election.

The heated debate, moderated by WCBS-TV’s Marcia Kramer and WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb, had its share of interruptions and insults with Molinaro accusing Cuomo of running the most corrupt administration in America and Cuomo calling his opponent a "mini-me of Donald Trump." The exchanges were feisty and often very personal.

The debate kicked off with a question for Cuomo about the cost of living in the state and whether he would consider trimming the budget to give New Yorkers tax relief.

“The cost of taxes, the cost of doing business in the state of New York is just too high and it has been for many, many years. The formula is simple: If you want to lose weight, eat less,” Cuomo said. “It’s just hard to do it, it's the discipline to do it. What we have done over the past seven years, Marcia, is we have cut state spending to the lowest increases in modern political history. Our increases are now down to two percent. That is lower than any governor in modern history."

Cuomo said the focus has to be on getting local governments to control their property taxes, pointing a finger at his opponent who he said raised property taxes 58 percent in Dutchess County over seven years.

Molinaro fired back saying, “In fact, your budgets have increased spending at about an annual rate of four percent each year. So despite the fact you continue to suggest you’ve been able to hold to two percent, you haven’t. And what you’ve talked about in trying to drive down local property taxes is dishonest. This state forces more state spending onto local property taxpayers than any state in the country."

The Dutchess County executive said he is committed to reducing property taxes 30 percent over five years and defended his record. 

The gloves quickly came off when Cuomo told Molinaro, "You call yourself a fiscal conservative, you're a fiscal fraud."

The two then went back and forth on the MTA when a question was posed about getting unions to cut jobs to cut down on wasteful spending.

“Obviously there is going to be waste and abuse in these programs and we can do better,” Cuomo said. “There have been unions that have been mad at me for seven years... I have no problem angering a union when it comes between doing the right thing by the people and doing the right thing by the union.”

But Molinaro said the governor has "abandoned responsibility for the MTA."

“We’ve seen it in a total death spiral over the course of the last several years, with on-time rates declining, with those with disabilities not being able to access subway platforms, we see the continued delay,” Molinaro said. “And it hurts real people, governor.”

Cuomo defended himself saying, “You have never seen a governor take more responsibility for the MTA than I have. I declared the state of emergency. You never saw George Pataki go near it. I put in the emergency action plan. I said to New York City ‘pay half the funding.’ They refused. I went to the state legislature, I got the full plan funded. Performance is increasing.”

Molinaro said to fix the MTA he'd “wipe clean those people who are in leadership today who have entanglements and conflicts of interest" and work with unions to identify where they could save some money.

But Cuomo said addressing the MTA's $30 billion capital plan goes beyond "cutting the waste."

Molinaro didn't hold back saying, "Your MTA costs five and six times more to lay a mile of track than it does anywhere else in the world which means we're wasting dollars and the savings need to go back into the system."

Later in the debate, Molinaro hammered the governor for ethical breaches. 

"Governor you have led the most corrupted state government in America. Eight individuals closely associated your administration are now going to jail or have gone to jail for federal corruption charges. At what point after eight years of being in office do you take responsibility or at least admit either you have benefitted politically from it or you have no clue what's going on within the administration," Molinaro said. 

Cuomo called the allegations "ad hominem," adding, "People in my administration made a mistake, they went to jail."

He then said Molinaro's county legislature is calling for an investigation of him for alleged kickbacks and perjury. Molinaro called that "entirely ridiculous" and said those accusations have been "demonstrably proven false."

Lamb asked the candidates if they would support changing the state law to allow police to take homeless people off the street against their will to get them help and shelter.

"I believe the problem is they're smart, they don't want to go into the shelters because the shelters are unsafe," Cuomo said. "If we make shelters safer with more services people will come in."

Molinaro said, "What we need to invest in is the mental health services that have been dismantled over the course of the last two decades, that means insuring that those who live on the street have the support of state and local governments. And what Albany needs to do is to coordinate our response."

Molinaro accused Cuomo of allowing the dismantling of mental health services, prompting the governor to call his opponent an "acolyte" of the president who Cuomo said is "decimating health care" in the state. 

After Cuomo called him "a mini-me of Donald Trump," Molinaro turned the tables on Cuomo saying, "You accepted $60,000 from Donald Trump and haven't returned it, you when you were trying to make friends with the president when he first came to office told him you wouldn't run against him and you sir had him at your bachelor party, I didn't."

Cuomo then appeared to corner Molinaro asking his opponent repeatedly, "Do you support Donald Trump?" before saying, "You can't answer it."

The governor at one point went after Molinaro on social issues saying, "You're against a woman's right to choose, he voted five times against equal pay for a woman, he voted to put a woman in shackles, he voted nine times against members of the LGBTQ community, he voted three times against marriage equality, they want to end healthcare for poor people, they're putting children in cages."

Molinaro said, "That is untrue," and asked the governor, "When are you going to stop lying?"

The atmosphere in the room was tense throughout the debate and it was only at the end during the lightning round when Kramer asked the candidates whether they'd like to sing their favorite song that both of them agreed, "no," Lamb reported.

Tuesday’s debate did not feature the three third-party candidates: Libertarian Larry Sharpe, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins or former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, an independent.