By Anthony Murray and Christina Claus
It was his first debate in 10 years and her first debate ever, and last Wednesday at Hofstra University, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon butted heads about what was fact and what was fiction over a plethora of topics, including the state of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), single-payer health care and the legalization of marijuana.
Nixon, who played Miranda Hobbes in the popular HBO television show Sex and the City, said the main reason why she was running for governor of New York State was due to the state’s education system.
“New York has the second most unequal education system when it comes to funding in the entire country,” said Nixon, who is a graduate of the public school system. “I’m not an Albany insider like Governor Cuomo, but I think that experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re not actually good at governing.”
When the topic of the MTA was brought up, both Cuomo and Nixon went back and forth on commuter frustrations, the progress of the MTA’s rescue plan and fare hikes.
At first, Cuomo shifted blame for the state’s and nation’s crumbling infrastructure to President Donald Trump who Cuomo claimed failed to come through on his promise to fix America’s infrastructure with a $1.5 trillion plan.
“We now have the most aggressive rebuilding program in this state’s history and the most aggressive state program in the United States, [which is] over $100 billion,” said Cuomo. “We’re rebuilding the Long Island Rail Road on Long Island, LaGuardia Airport, JFK Airport, Penn Station, a new Javits Center and new airports in upstate New York.”
Cuomo said he would support the cancellation of the planned MTA fare hike because the service is not what people deserve. However, the funding would have to be a 50/50 effort between the city and the state.
Nixon shot back saying that it was unconscionable that Cuomo would think about raising the fares on a system that is working so poorly and that she would absolutely cancel the plans for the fare hikes and have the state make up for the short fall. Nixon then accused the governor of using the MTA like an ATM.
“My opponent lives in a world of fiction and I live in a world of fact,” Cuomo responded.
One thing that both candidates agreed on was the legalization of marijuana.
“Eight other states have done it, plus the District of Columbia,” explained Nixon. “First and foremost, it’s a racial justice issue. People across all ethnic and racial lines use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but the arrests for marijuana are 80 percent black and Latino.”
With the added revenue from marijuana sales that would reach into the tens of millions of dollars, Nixon said the state could then invest in communities that have been targeted by allowing investments for jobs training and education programs.
Cuomo responded that he has been working for the past 15 years to reform the Rockefeller drug laws and has worked to decriminalize low levels of marijuana [arrests].
Cuomo, who has experimented with marijuana in the past as a college student, said that legalizing marijuana makes sense in the long run, said that legalizing marijuana makes sense in the long run, but disagreed with Nixon about how the extra revenue should be spent.
“I do believe that the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Cuomo. “That was the conclusion of a panel of experts on the topic.”
With regard to the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was recently renamed the Gvoernor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in honor of Cuomo’s late father, the current toll will remain frozen until 2020. The toll change all depends on the overall finances of the state and the transportation system in the next two years.
When pressed about keeping the name Tappan Zee as part of the new bridge, Cuomo wouldn’t budge.
“The Tappan Zee Bridge is no more. There are two small pieces left. This is going to be a new bridge, which we thought deserved a new name,” said Cuomo.
When asked whether both candidates support a single-payer Medicare health care system for all New Yorkers, Nixon said she would make the transition.
“What we would have is a payroll tax in order to pay for it. It would be taken out of people’s payrolls the same way Social Security is taken out,” said Nixon. “It would be an overall savings for 98 percent of New Yorkers and it would be an enormous savings for employers here. It is seen that it could create 200,000 jobs because employers would no longer be responsible for providing health care for employees. It would drive medical costs and pharmaceutical costs down 40 percent.”
Cuomo explained that the transition alone would cost the state more than its current budget, stating that a single-payer system works in theory and in the long-term.
“It is the right idea and it should be explored,” said Cuomo. “What we need to do is have a president who understands that health care is not a luxury, it is a human right and it would have to be done on the federal level.”
Cuomo also said that he is looking to extend paid family leave from eight to 12 weeks and hopes to include a paid bereavement bill as well to protect workers.
Nixon, who accused Cuomo of being forced into the law by labor, expressed her support for the rights of public sector workers, saying they will only strike when absolutely necessary. While Cuomo agreed organized labor is under attack, he disagreed that public sector workers should strike.
The New York State primary is Thursday, Sept. 13.