Cuomo: Debates Can Be ‘Disservice to Democracy’

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at MTA New York City Transit Headquarters on October 24, 2013. (MTA photo)

With less than a week to go before the primary, it doesn’t look like New Yorkers will get to witness a debate between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout because, according to Cuomo, debates “aren’t always a service to democracy”—at least some of the ones he’s been in.

The governor made this assertion following a press conference Tuesday about his recent trip to Israel with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, and Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Cuomo has been mum on the issue despite repeated calls from Teachout to debate her in public about such issues as Common Core and fracking.

Cuomo was reportedly asked about going face-to-face with Teachout, a Fordham Law professor.

This is how he responded, according to New York Observer:

“I don’t think it has anything to do with democracy. I think it has to do with individual campaigns—sometimes you have debates, sometimes you don’t have debates. It depends on the campaign, it depends on the issues, the level of issues, so there are a lot of variables…I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy—so anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates that I’ve been in.”

Lt. Governor-hopeful Timothy Wu didn’t mince words when he was asked about Cuomo’s views on debates.

“I profoundly disagree with that idea, particularly in our race,” Wu said during a conference call with reporters in which he accused his primary opponent and Cuomo’s running mate Kathy Hochul of being disingenuous when it comes to her record as a true Democrat. “We’re [not] talking about people on the street coming in to debate with the governor; we’re talking about two qualified candidates,” referring to himself and Teachout.

“That statement makes a mockery of the democratic process,” he continued. “It represents a theory of democracy that I do not recognize.”

He then characterized the primary as “a battle for the heart and soul for the Democratic Party.”

Hochul also has not agreed to a debate.

Teachout’s campaign has been gaining steam in recent weeks as she’s tried to paint Cuomo as a right-leaning Democrat and herself as a progressive who supports blue collar workers and a defender of teachers.

But it was Wu who perhaps received the biggest boost last week when the New York Times editorial board endorsed him for Lt. Governor over Hochul, a former congresswoman from Buffalo.

Wu, a staunch defender of Internet freedoms, went BuzzFeed-y, rattling off a list of “seven things that a progressive Democrat doesn’t do.” Progressives, Wu said, don’t “vote multiple times to gut the Clean Air Act” and don’t receive an “A” rating from the NRA.

Hochul last week pushed back on claims that she isn’t Democrat enough with a video in which she said it was an honor to serve in Congress “despite the politics in my district.”

“In the most Republican district in the State of New York, I campaigned hard to fight the Paul Ryan-Tea Party budget that would have decimated Medicare and left our seniors out in the cold,” she said.

“I never backed down from our core Democratic values: pro-choice, pro-marriage equality and pro-worker values,” Hochul continued. “I narrowly lost my re-election bid because I wouldn’t turn my back on the president and millions of Americans who deserve quality health care.”

Plus, she said, she stands for the Safe Act (Cuomo’s gun-control law) and the Dream Act (a bill that would provide state tuition assistance for undocumented students). They “are the right stands to take,” she said.

Cuomo also came to her defense.

“Ask Nancy Pelosi about Kathy Hochul,” the governor said, according to Capital New York. “Ask Charlie Rangel about Kathy Hochul. She represented a district in upstate New York that had some very conservative areas, some areas more conservative than New York City, but she’s a progressive through and through, there’s no doubt about that.”

Wu doesn’t seem convinced.

“She has a record that she cannot walk away from,” he said.

A debate would likely clear up the confusion.