An unusual debate took place on "The Brian Lehrer" radio show in New York this morning. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s GOP opponent Rob Astorino discussed his economic and education plans, Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout shared her views on environmentalism. But, Cuomo himself was nowhere to be found.
Lehrer opened the debate by declaring it was a “debate between two candidates for governor of New York who are not named Andrew Cuomo.” Astorino, the former Westchester County Executive in one corner, and Teachout, a Fordham University professor, in the other. Governor Cuomo refused to debate Teachout ahead of next Tuesday’s Democratic primary. He tried to rationalize his decision by calling debates a “disservice to democracy” (Astorino declared that the “strangest thing he’d ever heard of.)” So, to “raise the profile of democracy,” Lehrer invited Astorino and Teachout to a debate – and boy did they let the governor have it.
“It’s a prison sentence to live in New York now,” Astorino declared.
“Cuomo is just managing our decline, accelerating our decline.”
So, the Republican nominee offered solutions to fix the Empire State’s ailing economy:
“We need to get the 750,000 regulations off the chests off businesses and lower taxes. I think we need natural gas exploration, to create jobs.”
On this issue, Teachout, a self-described liberal and environmentalist, disagreed:
“We need to ban fracking. The best thing we can do for our economy is to invest in renewable energy.”
“What we need to do is invest in our schools, infrastructure.”
After sharing one another’s policy agendas, the debate turned into a discussion of Andrew Cuomo’s lack of leadership.
“We’re two people who disagree, but we’re principled," Astorino said. "Andrew Cuomo stands for nothing.”
Astorino elaborated on his accusation, explaining how Cuomo has flipped several of his policy stances because they were politically opportune.
Teachout had her own flattering description of the governor:
“He hasn’t cleaned up Albany – and he’s not a Democrat.”
Teachout then explained why Cuomo has an obligation to engage her in a debate:
“Andrew Cuomo has an obligation to the public, not just himself. It’s really self-serving to avoid a debate. It’s disrespectful to the voters of the state.”
“They deserve to hear us interact on those issues we disagree.”
She insisted her campaign “clearly has momentum on their side” and that in a Democratic primary with under 1 million voters, they’re going to see an “enormous upset.” Polls may show Cuomo still with a sizable lead, but Teachout has stolen endorsements from the governor left and right. The Public Employees Federation, the Sierra Club and the state chapter of the National Organization for Women are just a few organizations who have chosen to support Teachout because they are disenchanted with Cuomo's lack of Democratic credentials.
Astorino and Teachout may not have agreed much on policy, but they both agree the Cuomo administration is corrupt. They both mentioned the Moreland Commission, an investigative commission that Cuomo shut down once it seemed to get too close to his own campaign donors, with disgust.
“He’s being investigated for criminal activity,” Astorino said. “Pure power is what he is about.”
“This whole administration is built on a fraud.”
These were fighting words. Unfortunately for Cuomo, he was not there to fight back.