Insults, accusations and deflections marked the Democratic debate Wednesday between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon in a skirmish-filled 60 minutes.
Cuomo, seeking a third term, and Nixon, the former star of “Sex and the City” and an education activist, squared off at Hofstra University in their lone debate before the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
It was biting from the get-go of the hour-long debate broadcast by WCBS from the David S. Mack Sports Complex.
“Will you stop interrupting?” Cuomo said at one point, frustrated by Nixon talking over him.
“Can you stop lying?” Nixon replied.
“As soon as you do,” Cuomo said.
They continued in that vein throughout the evening.
Nixon: “You stand up to Trump about as well as he stands up to Putin.”
Cuomo: “There’s only one corporate Democrat on stage and it’s my opponent.”
Nixon: “Talk about so many lies.”
Cuomo: “My opponent lives in a world of fiction.”
Cuomo and Nixon jabbed at one another over crumbling subways, control of the State Legislature, government corruption, state-run health care, credit for the push to legalize marijuana and even the name of the new Mario Cuomo Bridge over the Hudson River.
Nixon criticized Cuomo for using progressive “rhetoric” but failing to deliver on progressive “policy.” She blamed him for worsening subway delays and chastised him for not backing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and single-payer health care.
Cuomo said Nixon lacked the policy expertise and experience to run government. On health care, for instance, he said her proposal for converting to a state-run system would cost “$200 billion just for the transition — that’s more than the entire state budget.”
But Cuomo found himself having to deflect her charges that he enabled a band of breakaway Democrats to partner with Senate Republicans to give the GOP control of the chamber — thereby blocking driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and expansion of abortion rights.
“There’s so many misstatements there, it’s hard to know where to start,” said Cuomo, who then tried to shift to the topic of President Donald Trump and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Nixon shot back: “You’ve been governor seven-and-a-half years and you haven’t made [licenses for undocumented immigrants] a priority.”
Cuomo blamed Republicans for blocking immigrant driver’s licenses and “congestion pricing” for Manhattan, telling Nixon: “If you knew the facts, you’d know that.”
They also skirmished at length over the condition of city subways and whether the state or the city government should shoulder more of the costs for repairs.
“As someone who is on the subway literally every day I know that delays have tripled under Gov. Cuomo,” Nixon said. Prompted by a WCBS moderator, she said she would delay a planned fare hike the fare hike and have the state invest more.
Nixon also said Cuomo channeled money that should have gone for repairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority system into other “pet projects.”
“He used the MTA like an ATM and we’ve seen the results,” she said.
Cuomo sought to outline the division of financial responsibility between the city and state governments; it's long been his contention that the city hasn’t paid its fair share.
Cuomo said he would like to cancel the scheduled fare hike, but argued, “The state cannot fund the MTA without the city.”
Nixon said the MTA was a “state agency,” and to claim otherwise was “disingenuous.”
Cuomo also sought to deflect when the panel brought up the conviction of Joseph Percoco, his former top aide and campaign manager, on bribery charges.
Cuomo, who once said his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, considered Percoco a “third son,” called it a “painful” situation and said “you can’t stop people from doing stupid things.”
“He’s going to pay a terrible price,” Cuomo said of Percoco. “I have always said public trust is job one.”
Pressed about how to change state ethics laws, Cuomo called for prohibiting state lawmakers from collecting outside income and reforming campaign finance laws — issues that didn't come up in the Percoco corruption trial.
Nixon accused Cuomo of paying lip service to the campaign finance issue and attempted to cast doubt on the governor’s contention that he had no knowledge of Percoco’s illegal activities. She said the governor was guilty of “incompetence or corruption.”
Cuomo took turns on offense, too.
He said Nixon sought “favors for friends” from the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio -- a Cuomo foe and a Nixon ally -- to stop helicopters from flying over Central Park during Shakespeare in the Park performances.
In the same exchange, Cuomo looked at Nixon and said: “A tea house for Sarah Jessica Parker, that wasn't a favor?”
Nixon replied: “I don't even know what you're referring to.”
Cuomo retorted: “Well, you should read the newspapers.”
Cuomo also tried to tear away at Nixon’s appeal to Democratic socialists, highlighting her multimillion dollar net worth and chiding her for filing taxes as a corporation.
Nixon said many actors, like small businesses or contractors, file as corporations.
But she offered that explanation only after one of the more awkward exchanges of the night.
“Are you a corporation?” Cuomo asked, smiling.
Nixon squinted, and looked puzzled.
“Are you a corporation?” he repeated.
“I am a person,” she said.