Last night Andrew Cuomo confirmed every fear that progressive and independent voters have about his run for governor. Most thought it a silly joke when, in mid-September, the Democrat Party candidate claimed that he, and not the Republican Carl Paladino, was the real Tea Party candidate. Any doubts about this claim were dashed at the Hofstra debate last night. Cuomo means what he says – his administration will slash publicly funded programs across the board and will cut taxes for the rich and corporations.
Last night’s event, seemed more like a group of old buddies hanging around than a debate. The fact that Paladino got up to go to the bathroom during the debate and that the Libertarian Candidate suggested that legislation could be better handled by a meeting between him, “Howie” (Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins) and “Charles” (Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron) over a six-pack and a beer didn’t help things.
While the antics ensued, Cuomo insisted on displaying his budget-cutting commitment. In fact, the only issues separating Paladino and his Democratic Party opponent was Cuomo’s cool demeanor and commitment to gay marriage. Both pledged to slash the state budget by cutting taxes, reducing social programs and expanding charter schools. On nearly every issue, the two parties are precisely the same.
Unlike Paladino, Cuomo was relaxed. Why shouldn’t he be? Miles ahead in the polls, a treasury filled with campaign contributions from liberals and conservatives and a mad-dog opponent sure to say something stupid each time he opens his mouth. Casting off even the pretense of liberal politics will win a few Republican votes and allow Democrats to become even more accustomed to being the party of budgetary slash and burn.
Paladino looked like what he is. A candidate who has been disowned by the Republican machine and one who can only generate media attention through outlandish comments. At times, he seemed confused, other times angry and his evening was punctuated by the rhetorical comment, “You might think I’m crazy.” We do.
Two alternatives did present themselves. Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron and the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins did well arguing from the left of the two Tea Partiers. Barron was sharp early, pushing Cuomo on campaign donations, corruption and the Democrats tax-cut pledge. Hawkins was better late in the debate when he seemed to become accustomed to the spotlight. He drew cheers for his position against hydro-fracking, made important contributions with a proposal on the Stock Transfer Tax and was clear on a plan to return democracy to legislative deliberations in Albany by reducing the power of “leaders” of committees.
Overall, Barron’s agenda seemed a bit narrower than Hawkins’ did. When asked about the plight of a small business owner Barron called for more funding for black-owned businesses instead of examining the larger issues of access credit. Hawkins scored well here by proposing a non-profit state bank as being the key to loosening up credit access. Similarly, Barron looked uncomfortable and, frankly, creepy, in refusing to take a position on the issue of gay marriage. Hawkins seemed much friendlier while trumpeting the Green Party’s accomplishments on the issue.
During his closing statement, Barron seemed unenthused sensing, perhaps, that he had lost his early momentum. Hawkins pulled a sometimes-confusing presentation together by providing a neat description of a “Green New Deal” that would put New York back to work and achieve some amount of social justice. These are attractive notions that should attract voters in this moment of economic crisis.
The real opponents in this year’s race for Governor in New York State are now apparent. No, it is not Paladino versus Cuomo. The two seem to share a lot politically. Instead, Barron and Hawkins may provide serious challenges to Cuomo by presenting ideas that speak more directly to the needs of everyday New Yorkers. However, the real victor last night was the sometimes-phantasmagorical Tea Party that seems to have two candidates running for office this election. New Yorkers would do well to defeat them both.
Billy Wharton is the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have been published by the Washington Post, Counterpunch and In These Times. He can be reached at [email protected]