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Capitol Watch: Call for debates in governor’s race

October 6, 2018

Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo addresses the crowd at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in Central Park on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, the challengers hoping to oust Gov. Andrew Cuomo say the Democrat is dragging his feet on debates.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are angry that a state task force created to address drinking water contamination missed a key deadline. They’re urging Cuomo and state health officials to act now to address toxic contamination around the state, including in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and Long Island.

A look at stories making news:

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DODGING DEBATES?

There are no debates scheduled in the governor’s race so far, and only a month to go before the Nov. 6 election.

Cuomo, seeking a third term, faces Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins and independent candidate Stephanie Miner, the former mayor of Syracuse. Libertarian candidate Larry Sharpe is also on the ballot.

Molinaro accused Cuomo of ducking debates last week, saying that he’s willing to participate in several debates — though he wants them to be one-on-one with Cuomo.

“I am proud to talk about my record and vision for New York, but it’s clear that Andrew Cuomo can’t say the same,” he said. “I see debates as a public obligation for those privileged enough to serve in public office. Mr. Cuomo, evidently, sees debates as forums at which he’ll be forced to address corrupt practices and economic failures that have become the hallmarks of his tenure in Albany.”

Polls show Cuomo is well ahead in the race. He’s also outpacing his opponents in fundraising, giving him little need for the free publicity offered by a debate. His challengers, however, have much more to gain. That’s especially true for Miner and Hawkins, who could use the debate to take their message to a broader audience.

For Molinaro the calculus is more complicated. A one-on-one matchup with Cuomo would highlight his criticism of the incumbent. But a four-way debate would offer less speaking time to the GOP candidate, while putting his challenge on par with his third-party rivals.

Cuomo has not yet committed to a debate. He recently told reporters that the campaigns will have to negotiate the details.

“That’s something we have to talk about,” he said.

Hawkins, for his part, said he and Cuomo discussed debates when the two ran into each other backstage at last weekend’s Global Citizen Festival in New York City, where they both spoke. Hawkins said he proposed a series of debates around the state. Cuomo, Hawkins said, asked “are you going to organize them?”

Hawkins took the question seriously, and said he’ll contact media outlets to schedule the events.

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WATER WOES

A state task force charged with addressing the state’s drinking water contamination problem missed its deadline last week — and environmental groups aren’t happy about it.

The Drinking Water Quality Council was expected to recommend by Oct. 2 whether the state should set maximum allowable levels of toxic chemicals like PFOA and PFOS in the water New Yorkers drink.

Instead of a recommendation, however, Cuomo announced another meeting for the council. He also announced $200 million in state funds to help with water quality — except the money isn’t new at all and was first announced in 2017 when lawmakers approved the state budget. Cuomo has even talked about the money before — frequently touting it and the creation of the drinking water council as evidence that he’s taking the problem seriously.

Cuomo bragged about the effort a year ago when he appointed the members to the task force.

“New York can no longer afford to wait,” he said at the time, saying the federal government was failing to address the contamination problem.

PFOA has contaminated drinking water in Hoosick Falls in Rensselaer County, while PFOS has contaminated drinking water around an Air National Guard base in Newburgh and groundwater near another base on Long Island. The chemicals are linked to problems such as cancer and thyroid disease.

States such as Vermont and New Jersey have already set maximum levels for the chemicals.

Environmental advocates were disappointed with the council’s lack of progress — and with Cuomo’s explanations.

“Today was a test of Gov. Cuomo’s commitment to clean water_and he failed,” said Nisha Swinton of Food & Water Watch.

Liz Moran, of Environmental Advocates of New York, said Cuomo’s administration didn’t even need to wait for the task force.

“The governor and the Department of Health could have acted on these chemicals as soon as the pollution crises came to light in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh, and Long Island years ago, but they didn’t,” she said.

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UPCOMING

Oct. 16: Assembly holds hearing in Manhattan on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Oct. 16: Senate holds hearing in Manhattan on the effectiveness of the state’s efforts to encourage women- and minority-owned businesses.

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