New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon met for the only televised primary debate before the election on Sept. 13. The debate began at 7 p.m. ET. The moderators were CBS New York's Maurice DuBois and Marcia Kramer, the station's top political correspondent.
Cuomo, the son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo, is seeking his third term as governor. During his tenure, he has overseen the legalization of same-sex marriage and the implementation of one of the most stringent gun control measures in the country. However, Nixon, an activist and former "Sex and the City" star, argues that Cuomo is not progressive enough on certain issues, such as legalizing recreational marijuana and abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Nixon has also challenged Cuomo over issues with the crumbling New York City subway system.
Although Cuomo is the frontrunner in the race, many on the left are dissatisfied with his leadership, and the debate gives Nixon an opportunity to reach a wide audience.
Cuomo-Nixon debate highlights from the live debate:
No major moments at debate
Although the candidates criticized each other repeatedly, and accused each other of telling falsehoods, neither landed a significant hit against their opponent.
Nixon tried to highlight Cuomo's ties to corruption in Albany, while Cuomo tried to paint Nixon as a millionaire who doesn't release enough of her tax returns. On Friday, Nixon allowed reporters to inspect five years of her taxes.
However, Nixon was able to stand her ground against Cuomo in her first political debate, and had the opportunity to reach a wider audience.
The debate ended with a handshake between the two candidates, despite the rancor they had exhibited towards each other minutes before.
No love for de Blasio
In a series of rapid-fire questions, both candidates declined to say whether they wanted the endorsement of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio and Cuomo have a tense relationship, while Nixon has previously been a prominent supporter of the mayor.
"He makes his own decisions," Cuomo said in response.
"This is a race that I am running on my own. This does not have to do with any particular endorsement that I've gotten or haven't gotten," Nixon answered.
Nixon also said that she would decline a salary if she were governor.
Both candidates try to burnish labor credentials
Nixon often accuses Cuomo of only conceding to liberal prerogatives because of pressure from political groups. In the debate, she said that labor unions pressured him to support a $15 minimum wage.
Cuomo has the endorsements of all of the major labor unions in the state.
"I was never at war with the labor unions," said Cuomo, then asking the audience: "How am I with labor?" The audience responded with loud cheers.
When asked about a potential strike by transit workers, Nixon said that she believed union members should have the ability to strike, even if it paralyzes the city.
"I think it's really important that public sector workers be allowed to strike," Nixon said. "I think that labor unions need to have more independence."
Cuomo opposed a transit workers strike. He said that the biggest enemy of labor was President Trump, especially after the Supreme Court ruling from June, Janus v. AFSCME, which limited the power of unions.
Minor disagreements over recreational marijuana
Nixon, a staunch supporter of legalizing recreational marijuana, made the case for legalization as a criminal justice issue. She argued that white people got a pass from the criminal justice system while using marijuana, while people of color are incarcerated more often because of possession.
Cuomo, who previously called marijuana a "gateway drug," now endorsed legalization. He said that racial biases and mass incarceration did not begin with marijuana, but had many causes.
"I do believe the benefits outweigh the risks," Cuomo said about legalization.
Nixon and Cuomo tussle over ethics
Cuomo was asked about the corruption scandals that have touched Albany and his own administration, including a corruption conviction of a former top aide this year.
Cuomo called for campaign finance reform, including not allowing legislators to earn outside income. However, he said that it was not possible without a Democratic majority in the state Senate. Republicans currently have control of the state Senate.
"They are achievable with a majority Democratic Senate and a full majority," Cuomo said. "You have to elect Democrats and then you have to get the job done. That's the art of governance. I can get it done."
In response, Nixon pointed out that Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission, an ethics panel which he created, in 2014. Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, investigated the shutdown of the panel, but did not find sufficient evidence that a crime was committed, in 2016. She also criticized him for the Legislature not closing the so-called LLC loophole, which allows for large contributions to be given to candidates through LLCs.
In response, Cuomo accused Nixon of using her influence to ask New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for favors. Nixon previously asked de Blasio to stop helicopters for flying over Shakespeare in the Park performances.
Cuomo pivots on MTA / NYC subway troubles
Cuomo has been criticized for what some see as an insufficient response to a beleaguered New York City subway system. He continued to insist that New York City should provide half the funding for improvements in the debate.
"It has to be a joint funding responsibility between the city and the state," Cuomo said, referring to a plan by New York City Transit head Andy Byford to improve the subway. "I want to fund a $33 billion plan. That's what we need to fix the subway. I don't want to do it just one step at a time."
Nixon hit back by blaming Cuomo for the crisis.
"He has had seven and a half years to avoid this very avoidable problem," she said. She also pointed out that the MTA is effectively run for the governor.
The debate then got heated.
"My opponent lives in the world of fiction, I live in the world of fact," Cuomo retorted as Nixon interrupted him repeatedly. "Can you stop interrupting?"
"Can you stop lying?" Nixon responded.
"Yeah, as soon as you do," Cuomo said.
Cuomo commits to serving as governor for four years
Cuomo, who is considered a potential presidential candidate, committed to staying in office for the full four years if he is re-elected. He confirmed that he would not run for president if elected.
"The only caveat is if God strikes me down," Cuomo said.
If re-elected, Cuomo's term would end in 2022.
Debate begins, will air on TV later this evening
The debate between Nixon and Cuomo is being taped at 5:00 p.m., but will not air on WCBS-TV and CBSN until 7:00 p.m.
Nixon appeared to shake hands with Cuomo before the debate began. Cuomo was criticized in 2014 for not shaking hands with his then-primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout.
Pre-debate tussle over room temperature
Before the real debate begins, the two campaigns are arguing over what temperature the debate room should be.
Nixon's team requested that the temperature in the room where the debate is being held at Hofstra University be set at 76 degrees. Cuomo is notorious for preferring an extremely cold environment during his public appearances.
Senior Nixon campaign adviser Rebecca Katz wrote in an email to debate organizer WCBS-TV saying that "notoriously sexist when it comes to temperature, so we just want to make sure we're all on the same page here."
It is a well-documented practice for offices to lower temperatures for the comfort of men in suits, while women in lighter outfits are left out in the cold.
Cuomo's campaign team told CNN that it had not made any temperature-related requests.
"Unlike Cynthia Nixon, the governor has more important things to focus on than the temperature of a room," said campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.
The respective campaigns jumped into the debate on Twitter.
Melissa DeRosa, a top aide to Cuomo, tweeted a picture of Cuomo's dog, Captain, lying down on a pile of ice. DeRosa captioned the picture: "Captain recovering from attending debate prep in Team Nixon's preferred temperature."
L. Joy Williams, a senior adviser to Nixon's campaign, suggested that the request might be strategic. "Maybe you say 76 degrees and get 65 degrees instead of freezing at 50," she tweeted.
#MeToo movement likely to be discussed
New York has played a prominent role in the #MeToo movement. Several of the investigations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein are in New York, by the Manhattan district attorney and by federal prosecutors.
Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned in May after several women accused him of physical abuse.
Cuomo has positioned himself as a strong supporter of women's rights, but he has been known act in a bullying or condescending manner towards women. In December, he told a female reporter that she was doing a "disservice to women" with her question about sexual harassment in state government.
Nixon released an ad highlighting some of Cuomo's stumbles with women in July.
Corruption a major issue in gubernatorial race
Nixon also argues that Cuomo has overseen a culture of corruption in Albany while governor. In the past year, the former Assembly speaker, the former state Senate majority leader and a former top aide to Cuomo have been convicted on corruption charges. Many progressives in the state also believe that Cuomo has tacitly allowed for the Republican Party to hold control of the state Senate while in office, where they have blocked measures such as bail reform and codifying Roe v. Wade into state law.
ReadSludge reported on Tuesday that Cuomo suspended a state investigation into the Manhattan district attorney's failure to prosecute Weinstein the same month that his campaign received $25,000 from Weinstein's lawyer.