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Nixon again pushes for debate but stalling could be Cuomo strategy

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
Nixon in Syracuse in April.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon has been calling on Cuomo to have a debate before the primary election in September. But waiting on a debate could be a strategy by the governor.

Nixon said it has been two months since she first agreed to debate Cuomo one-on-one. In a video released last week, Nixon is now calling for two debates, one upstate and one in New York City.

“When the governor refuses to have a real debate, just remember why he’s doing it," Nixon said. "Because he doesn’t want New Yorkers to know that they have a real choice.”

Cuomo’s campaign said they are absolutely committed and looking forward to a robust debate. They are currently receiving invitations and reviewing the various opportunities, including a date closer to the election so voters don’t forget about it.

“That’s something the campaigns will talk about and I’ll leave it to them,” Cuomo said.

Grant Reeher is the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University and has organized and moderated many debates. He said in his experience, the incumbent or the candidate who expects to win wants to have a debate as close as possible to the Election Day and the challenger wants to have it earlier.

“If something goes wrong, the person who is ahead perceives more of a risk in that regard, they want the damage to be contained in as few number of days as possible," Reeher said. "If the challenger is able to score some points and perform well and get the better of the incumbent, they want to have that happen early so that people can talk about it, so that it can be put out on the Internet and more people can get a chance to watch it.”

Reeher said a candidate in the lead is more risk adverse because they perceive what they are doing is working, while a challenger who is behind might want to try something tricky and different. He said that more debates are a good thing for democracy. But he said Cuomo has been strategic in the past, when he insisted all candidates on the ballot have equal participation in a debate.

"The reason for that is that he wanted to dilute as much as possible his main challenger," Reeher said.

Cuomo's other opponents are also calling on him to debate. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins is urging media organizations to set the debates with or without Cuomo.

"If Cuomo doesn't show up, that's on him, and we'll have a good debate without him," Hawkins said. "And if we start having those kinds of debates, I think he'll feel pressure to come, compelled to come."

Republican candidate Marc Molinaro and independent candidate Stephanie Miner also said they are ready to debate Cuomo.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.