WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- In their first -- and likely only -- debate of the New York gubernatorial race, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, traded pointed charges in exchanges that were at times heated Wednesday night.
The hour-long debate, held at the studios of WNED/WBFO in Buffalo and televised in the Westchester area on WNET, also included Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Party candidate Michael McDermott.
Astorino pounced on the disbanding of the Moreland Commission on ethics, saying Cuomo "is swimming in the cesspool of corruption, so much so we have a state that only in New York can the anti-corruption committee be corrupted" and said Cuomo exchanged tax breaks for campaign donations, allowing Cuomo to collect $45 million in campaign contributions.
Cuomo, who countered the attacks of his underdog challenger with quite a bit of vigor throughout the evening, noted Astorino has been questioned by the Federal government over a housing desegregation settlement in Westchester, where both candidates resides (Astorino in Hawthorne, Cuomo in New Castle).
“The Federal government is suing one county executive out of 3,000 in the country for discrimination and it’s Mr. Astorino,” Cuomo said.
“There’s only one person here that has a criminal defense team," Astorino said. "It’s not me, it’s Andrew Cuomo."
Astorino advocated repealing Common Core, labeling it "Cuomo's Common Core" and saying it has been "an unmitigated disaster."
"I understand desperate candidates, but there has to be some credibility," Cuomo said. “ 'Cuomo’s Common Core'? I have nothing to do with Common Core. It was established by the Board of Regents, which is established by the Legislature."
Cuomo painted Astorino as having an "ultra-conservative philosophy that disrespects women, minorities and Immigrants."
Astorino countered that, “We can make New York great again, but don’t listen to his nonsense. When he throws out the race card, it’s because he has no ideas for New York.”
Cuomo alleged that under Astorino's watch, Westchester has become the highest taxed state in the nation, a charge Astorino refuted.
"He should be thanking me," Astorino said. "I'm his county executive. His taxes have gone down."
The debate followed a long debate about the debates, with Astorino's camp pushing for several one-on-one, televised debates with Cuomo.
For his part, Hawkins said there was still plenty of ground not covered Wednesday night.
“I wish this was the first of seventh debates like they had in Connecticut,” said Hawkins. “Because we barely touched on the issues.”
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