This week, NY1 send out an open letter detailing its ongoing plans to try to set up a Democratic primary debate between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his challenger, Cynthia Nixon, to take place at Queens College on August 22.
Four years ago, Cuomo chose not to debate Zephyr Teachout. He ended up winning easily, though the margin was a lot closer than the poll numbers had predicted. This year, he is facing a challenger with much higher name recognition, yet he still holds a commanding lead in recent polls.
Traditional politic wisdom dictates that he shouldn’t debate. There is little for him to gain, considering he has spent the past eight years developing alliances and partnerships; and amassing a huge campaign warchest that allows him to plaster the airwaves with 30-second ads touting his legislative record. Getting on the stage with an accomplished actor with nothing to lose is like walking through a minefield, where success would be avoiding major gaffes.
The problem is this traditional view of politics hasn’t been working well for the Democratic Party in recent years. The run-out-the-clock method didn’t work for Hillary Clinton in her presidential bid. Rep. Joe Crowley was blindsided by an influx of “unlikely” voters on whom pollsters didn’t pick up because those voters were engaged for the first time.
We don’t doubt that a number of really smart people working on the Cuomo campaign are looking at data and crunching numbers right now, and coming to the conclusion that not debating is the best way to ensure he gets 51 percent of the vote.
In the end, they are probably right.
But if Gov. Cuomo wants to be president (as some speculate), or if he wants to govern effectively for the final four years of his term in office, then we think he should aspire to more than a narrow victory aided by low turnout. If Gov. Cuomo thinks he is the best person to run the state of New York for four more years, then he should stand on a stage and articulate why. Sure, he will get barraged with questions about his administration’s ethical failings, but he should explain what happened and what he has done to prevent it from happening in the future. Of course he will be attacked relentlessly by Cynthia Nixon, but he should respond with appropriate gravitas and show voters he has the intelligence and temperament necessary to manage one of the biggest and most complex governments in the United States.
The time for safe and calculating politics is over. Now is a time to be bold and unafraid. The bold and unafraid move is to debate.