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During Campaign Season, Even The Debates Are Debated

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Chele Farley, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Marc Molinaro
Composite photo Dave Lucas/WAMC & Facebook
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Chele Farley, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Marc Molinaro

With two weeks to go before Election Day, candidates across our region have been gathering for debates. But it isn’t always easy to get them scheduled.

After much back-and-forth, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Marc Molinaro agreed to participate in what looks to be their only showdown before next month's election, the Democrat's first debate as governor one-on-one with a general election opponent, with no minor party candidates present.

The agreement came after the New York Post put a photoshopped Cuomo in a chicken suit on its cover, which may have nudged the governor to green-light a Saturday morning radio debate, which Molinaro quickly refused, asking instead for a televised meet-up.

Cuomo agreed, and the two met Tuesday on tape delay at WCBS in New York City.

"The idea that you will not debate is un-American," quipped WAMC political observer Dr. Alan Chartock.  "I think there's something to be said for all those great people who say 'even if I'm behind I'm going to debate because it's the right thing to do.’ But Andrew Cuomo plays by a different set of rules, and he didn't wanna do it. Now, he comes in at the end and he says 'OK,' he takes a look at the polls, people don't like it, he says OK, I'll debate.' So he'll debate. So what."

For Molinaro it's an opportunity to be heard by voters who may not be familiar with him.  "It's also an opportunity to hold the governor accountable."

Meantime, a debate between U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and her GOP opponent Chele Farley was off, then back on — in a new venue at a new time.

Citing a labor dispute involving SPECTRUM TV stations that were set to air it, Gillibrand backed away from a Sunday afternoon confrontation at Skidmore College.  Here's Farley:    "Senator Gillibrand's decision to cancel our statewide debate at the last minute, a debate on a network, she chose and scheduled to accommodate her campaign for president is a disgrace in a disservice to the millions of upstate voters who have yet to make a decision about this election. Upstate voters for too long have been taken for granted. They deserve a debate and I have called on Senator Gillibrand to agree to one before Election Day."

Glen Caplin is Gillibrand's campaign spokesperson.   "Senator Gillibrand believes deeply an open public debate is essential to democracy. We are pleased WABC-TV, the nation's most watched local station, agreed on Saturday afternoon, to host a U.S. Senate statewide debate this coming Thursday for the weekly flagship political show called ‘Up Close with Bill Ritter.’ We were also pleased the debate will be provided to all  ABC’s local statewide affiliates , in addition to being live-streamed for anyone to see on WABC-TV's market leading social media platforms. With this debate we will be able to both stand in solidarity with the eighteen hundred members of IBEW went on strike for fair pay and benefits and provide New Yorkers the opportunity they deserve to heat from both candidates. We look forward to the debate."

Skidmore officials responded to a request for comment on the cancelation via email: “We were looking forward to hosting the debate as we have done before. When plans changed, we notified members of the Skidmore community and proceeded with other activities as scheduled.”

The 30-minute Gillibrand-Farley debate is set for 1:30 p.m. Thursday. It will be live-streamed on abc7NY.com, the WABC Eyewitness News app and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with the WABC-TV broadcast Sunday at 11 a.m. WABC has offered the debate to other ABC affiliates throughout New York state.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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