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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

The mayor goes unloved at gubernatorial debate

At Wednesday’s Democratic primary gubernatorial debate, the mayor was front and center. But not for the reasons you may think.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon face

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon face off at Hofstra University in Hempstead for the Democratic gubernatorial primary debate. Photo Credit: Newsday/Pool / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Poor Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Let us count the ways that the only gubernatorial Democratic primary debate Wednesday night was a barrel of arrows aimed at de Blasio and his city.

Moderator Maurice DuBois of WCBS-TV asked both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon whether they wanted de Blasio’s endorsement.

Cuomo, whose feud with the mayor is legendary, smiled Grinch-style and noted that both have had a “dysfunctional” relationship for more than 30 years. “I love Mayor de Blasio, I’m sure he loves me in a strange sort of way,” he said, bizarrely. When pushed: “No, yes or no.”

Nixon, whose wife worked in de Blasio’s administration, said she was running on her own and wouldn’t say whether she sought his endorsement, either.

Then there was the nauseating return of every transit wonk’s least favorite TV episode, which might be called: “Does the state or the city really own the subway, and who should pay how much for it?” As subway service has reached a crisis point, Cuomo and his chosen MTA head, Joe Lhota, last year tried to shift responsibility for a short-term subway rescue plan onto the city using a convoluted and novel rationale. It was an argument about ownership of physical subway infrastructure involving decades-old statutes that is truly tiresome to get into. But, in the end, de Blasio agreed to pay for half of the more than $800 million emergency rescue plan despite the fact that Cuomo controls the MTA.

The idea that the city should split costs returned Wednesday night when the other debate moderator, WCBS-TV’s Marcia Kramer, asked Cuomo whether he would support canceling a planned fare hike given the terrible state of the subway system.

Cuomo acknowledged that “the service is not what people deserve,” and said he would cover the couple hundred million in funds that would have been raised by a fare hike. But he’d only do it if the city did it with him.

So, will the city find itself on the hook for something new?

Jabs at the city didn’t end there. Cuomo described the New York City Housing Authority — hit with lead, heating, and management scandals — as a “national disgrace.”

He praised the amount of construction going on around the state (little of it involving the subway, by the way) by saying that it was the most since the days of Robert Moses, the headstrong 20th century builder whose highway-centric philosophies are not exactly in vogue in the five boroughs these days.

Still, the debate showcased areas in which Nixon’s insurgent campaign has successfully forced the governor left (as with marijuana legalization), or simply made him pay attention (to the serious issues with the MTA, which he said needed “$33 billion”).

It must have been bittersweet for de Blasio to watch the candidates clash from the couch at Gracie Mansion, forced to tweet huffily: “The state runs the MTA. @NYGovCuomo knows this.” Nixon carried the progressive banner the mayor has always unfurled. Most of all, she repeatedly doubled down on the importance of a Democratic-controlled State Senate, which de Blasio clumsily sought four years ago. It’s a cause Cuomo has only recently seized in earnest. But it’s a new era in New York. Whoever wins, maybe de Blasio will find a governor more amenable to his policy preferences come November.

As long as he can withstand the insults in the meantime.


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