Almost two weeks to the day before New York’s primary elections, Governor Andrew Cuomo and gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon met for what will be their only debate prior to voters hitting the polls.
The debate was recorded earlier in the afternoon at Hofstra University on Long Island, but aired a few hours later on CBS. And as expected, it touched on some issues of interest to New Yorkers—the broken subway system, legalizing marijuana, paid family leave—as well as some head scratchers. (Was the renaming of the Tappan Zee Bridge actually worth spending several minutes debating?)
Throughout, both candidates had barbed comments for one another (one memorable moment: Cuomo angrily asked, “Can you stop interrupting?” to which Nixon replied, “Can you stop lying?”), but otherwise, little of substance was ultimately revealed. But here’s what we did learn in some of Curbed’s key areas of interest—namely, transit and housing.
The subway: In response to a question about whether or not he would hold off on implementing a MTA fare hike given the abysmal state of the subway system, Cuomo first brought up how much he’s doing for transit throughout the state (La Guardia fixes! new Penn station!), the Trump administration’s delayed infrastructure plans, and his appointment of Andy Byford. But ultimately, he said that yes, he would cancel the fare hike, because “service is not what people deserve.”
He did, however, say that any funding shortfalls would need to be made up by the state and the city, before launching into his typical refrain about how it’s the city’s responsibility to fund the subways and it’s not doing its share. (Here’s a fact check on that from one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reps.)
Nixon took this as an opportunity to tear into Cuomo for how the subway system has deteriorated under his watch. “Governor Cuomo knows the MTA is controlled by the state, and to pretend anything else is completely disingenuous,” she said. “He has had seven and a half years to avoid this very avoidable crisis in our New York City subway system and he has done next to nothing.” She also challenged Cuomo’s assertion that he has been a consistent supporter congestion pricing.
And even though neither candidate would say they wanted De Blasio’s endorsement, he weighed in with a MTA-related tweet:
The state runs the MTA. @NYGovCuomo knows this. I know he’s really bad at it — every New Yorker does — but he can’t just pretend it’s not his fault because it’s election time.— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) August 30, 2018
Housing: The affordable housing crisis that’s playing out across not just New York City, but the entire state, took up an insubstantial amount of discussion time compared to, say, tax returns or corruption in Albany, but it was a brief talking point, along with the homelessness crisis.
The moderators first asked if candidates would change state law to force homeless New Yorkers into shelters against their will “for their safety and the safety of others,” and both This was one area in which the candidates agreed: “We need a shelter system and a mental health system that works,” Cuomo said, citing his work at HUD during the Clinton years as giving him the experience and knowledge of this issue.
Nixon agreed, but the question gave her an opening to lay into Cuomo’s history of taking campaign contributions from real estate developers, which she linked to the state’s housing crisis. “We need rent protections, not just in buildings built before 1974 and going forward, and not just in the eight counties we have now,” Nixon said, saying that housing is the “number one issue that people upstate and downstate talk to me about.”
Nixon has been a vocal supporter of the movement to establish universal rent control in New York state, and has received the endorsement of several groups working to do the same, including New York Communities for Change.