New York gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro wants to ensure voters hear from candidates for statewide offices. The Republican is proposing the formation of a debate commission.
Molinaro, a Republican, says gubernatorial debates, in particular, are practically non-existent in New York.
“We’ve seen a history of incumbent governors ignoring challengers and not giving New Yorkers an open and honest debate so that they can make an informed choice,” Molinaro says. “This governor has taken it to an extreme.”
He points to Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s negotiating a televised primary debate on CBS TV with Cynthia Nixon, who says she had agreed to earlier debates on other stations, but without a nod from Cuomo. Molinaro levels criticism on the other side of the aisle as well, saying former Republican Governor George Pataki held no debates one year. And so, says Molinaro:
“I think an independent commission that establishes the rules, that considers good government practices, that includes voters, is in the best interest of New York and New Yorkers,” Molinaro says.
Molinaro proposes that such a commission be made up of recognized good government organization leaders and rotating newspaper editorial board editors and television and radio station managers. He says the commission would establish rules and standards for an open debate among candidates seeking the highest offices in the state. Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, or NYPIRG.
“We think debates are a good thing. We think it’s important for the public to hear what the candidates for office have to say. We think it should be done in an as impartial and independent manner as possible,” says Horner. “And the idea that Mr. Molinaro’s advanced of somehow having people that are not part of the political system, or the partisan system, be the individuals that would, or the organizations that would pull this event together seems like a good idea to us.”
Molinaro envisions such a commission being formed in a few weeks.
“We’re asking for this now. Listen, on September the 14th, or at the end of the day on September the 13th, there will be as many as five candidates for governor of the state of the New York,” says Molinaro. “And I think that seeing how Andrew Cuomo has treated Cynthia Nixon and his unwillingness to play fairly and provide voters a fair opportunity to hear from him and his opponents, I think we should all agree to it now. We should absolutely agree to an independent commission now that can establish the rules and the standards for a set of debates that include the candidates for governor in 2018.”
Nixon’s campaign, in a statement, says Nixon was faced with the resulting WCBS debate date and format on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Cynthia for New York Senior Advisor Rebecca Katz says, “Cynthia will debate Governor Cuomo backwards and in high heels if she has to.” A spokeswoman says Nixon would be open to Molinaro’s idea. A spokesperson from the New York State Democratic Committee did not respond in time for this broadcast. Molinaro says ducking debates is more common among incumbents.
“It’s generally something that incumbents say or do because they want to limit the exposure of their opponents. And I just think it’s not democratic, lowercase ‘d’. It’s not fair to voters,” Molinaro says. “And it’s not something I’ve every practiced as an incumbent county executive or otherwise. I debated those people who’ve run against me because it’s in the best interest of voters, and I think that it’s necessary.”
Again, NYPIRG’s Horner, who is a WAMC commentator and board member.
“The City of New York, for example, has a legal requirment that candidates must debate, particularly if they’re part of the system of public financing,” Horner says. “So, there’s precedent in the state of New York.”
But that’s with regard to public financing.
“I don’t think you can require that someone debates. Now, that being said, there is a sort of persuasiveness if the major media outlets, for example, all banded together and said that we are going to convene a series of debates or a debate and that we are inviting the candidates. I think that creates a sort of public pressure that might, that would force candidates to want to attend such an event,” says Horner. “And so that’s why I think where there is power, I think it’s sort of the subtle persuasive power of well-respected organizations that have their own clout convening the event, I think, creates its own pressure.”
The primary debate is scheduled for August 29. The primary election is September 13.