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Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Republican Challenger Marc Molinaro Face Off In Fiery Debate

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The gloves came off as both major party candidates for governor of New York faced off Tuesday in a spirited, combative debate - their only one.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican challenger Marc Molinaro were asked about a whole range of issues important to New Yorkers from Brooklyn to Buffalo.

The two were questioned by CBS2's Marcia Kramer and WCBS News Radio 880's Rich Lamb.

WATCH IT AGAIN: New York Gubernatorial Debate (English) (Spanish)


Cuomo was asked about the cost of living and why he wasn't trimming the budget to help New Yorkers get more tax relief.

"The cost of taxes, the cost of doing business in the state of New York is just too high and it has been for many, many years. The formula is simple: If you want to lose weight, eat less," Cuomo said. "It's just hard to do it... What we have done over the past seven years, Marcia, is we have cut state spending to the lowest increases in modern political history. Our increases are now down to two percent."

Cuomo said it was essential for local governments to control their property taxes.

"Governor, were that only true," Molinaro said. "In fact, your budgets have increased spending at about an annual rate of four percent each year. So despite the fact you continue to suggest you've been able to hold to two percent, you haven't. And what you've talked about in trying to drive down local property taxes is dishonest. This state forces more state spending onto local property taxpayers than any state in the country."

Molinaro said he opposed the cap on state and local tax deductions.

The two were questioned about waste in the MTA budget.

"Obviously there is going to be waste and abuse in these programs and we can do better," Cuomo said. "There have been unions that have been mad at me for seven years."

"The governor has abandoned responsibility for the MTA and we've seen it in a total death spiral over the course of the last several years, with on-time rates declining, with those with disabilities not being able to access subway platforms, we see the continued delay," Molinaro said. "And it hurts real people, governor."

Molinaro said he would "take ownership" and "wipe clean those people who are in leadership today who have entanglements and conflicts of interest."

"We have to make the system function and it isn't," Molinaro said. "It's the lifeblood of the city."

"You have never seen a governor take more responsibility for the MTA than I have. I declared the state of emergency. You never saw George Pataki go near it," Cuomo said. "I put in the emergency action plan. I said to New York City 'pay half the funding.' They refused. I went to the state legislature, I got the full plan funded."

Cuomo was asked whether he would support placing the state's ethics commission under the control of the state's attorney general. Cuomo said he was open to reforming how the members of the commission were appointed, and said they needed to be more independent.

"Governor, you have led the most corrupted state government in America. Eight individuals closely associated with your administration are now going to jail or have gone to jail for federal corruption charges. At what point after eight years of being in office do you take responsibility," Molinaro said. "Or at least admit you have benefited politically from it or you have no clue what's going on within the administration."

Cuomo called those allegations "false" and "ad homonym."

"Yes, people in my administration made a mistake. They went to jail," Cuomo said.

Cuomo said Molinaro's county legislature was calling for an investigation of him for alleged kickbacks, which Molinaro said had been "demonstrably proven false."

The two clashed and spoke over one another as they traded accusations.

Cuomo was asked whether he would support changing the law to allow homeless people to be brought in against their will to get them help and shelter.

"I believe the problem is they're smart. They don't want to go into the shelters because the shelter are unsafe. If we make shelters safer, with more services, people will come in," Cuomo said. "They don't want to sleep on a park bench in Grand Central. They really don't. But the shelters are unsafe, and that's where we have to focus."

"What we need to invest in is the mental health services that have been dismantled over the course of the last two decades. That means insuring that those who live on the street have the support of state and local governments," Molinaro said. "And what Albany needs to do is to coordinate our response."

Molinaro accused Cuomo of allowing the dismantling of mental health services.

"This is so hypocritical for you to sit here, an acolyte of Donald Trump, a mini-me of Donald Trump, who is decimating health care in this state, taking health care from poor people, cutting medicaid, cutting mental health services, removing health insurance from close to one million New Yorkers and say the answer is more health services," Cuomo said.

That triggered a heated back-and-forth about the president. Molinaro said Cuomo had accepted $60,000 from Trump and hadn't returned it and Cuomo's law firm represented Trump and his real estate interests while his father was governor.

"You, when you were trying to make friends with the president when he first came to office, told him you wouldn't run against him. And you, sir, had him at your bachelor party, I didn't," Molinaro said. "So at the end of the day sir I have a long record of committing to help those who the most vulnerable."

"Do you support Donald Trump? Do you support Donald Trump?" Cuomo asked Molinaro.

"Today, under this president and this federal government, America has the most competitive economy in the world, and New York state lags behind," Molinaro said.

"Then say it: 'I support Donald Trump.' Just tell the truth," Cuomo said. "Just say 'I support Donald Trump.'"

Molinaro was asked about whether the state should eliminate cash bail for low level criminal defendants, on the theory that poor defendants have to linger in jail while awaiting trial while the wealthy walk free.

"What I believe needs to occur statewide is we have to invest effectively in the appropriate representation at the time of arraignment and throughout the judicial process. We need to ensure that individuals who are trapped in the criminal justice system have a support structure so that they can find their way back to society and not return to jail," Molinaro said.

Molinaro blasted Cuomo for the parole of Herman Bell, who killed two NYPD officers in 1971.

"If my opponent makes a factual statement, it's by mistake," Cuomo said. "I did disagree with the parole board's release of Herman Bell."

That led to a discussion of pardons and voting rights for criminals.

"You pardoned 24,000 individuals and allowed them the right to vote and it shouldn't have happened," Molinaro said.

"Yes, after they did their time and we're trying to reintegrate them. How do you reintegrate somebody if you don't even let them to vote?" Cuomo said.

"You should've gone to the legislature," Molinaro said. "Is there no law you're not willing to bend or break?"

Cuomo accused Molinaro of racking up $70,000 in expenses while he was in legislature. Molinaro said that wasn't true.

Molinaro was asked about whether he would support a single-payer health care system in New York.

"New York cannot afford this program, not to mention the state of New York has a hard enough time getting the trains to run effectively in the city. To put the governor or the state government in charge of health care would be frightening," Molinaro said. "Certainly New Yorkers can not afford doubling their personal income tax to support a system that's just not sustainable."

"He's with Mr. Trump: There should only be health care for rich people," Cuomo said. "He voted against the health care exchange when he was in New York state legislature, which insures four million New Yorkers. Donald Trump just said he wants to allow the disallowance of preexisting conditions and end the funding for the Affordable Care Act under Obama. They think if you're rich, you should be able to have health care. If you're poor, good luck, don't get sick."

"I grew up on food stamps, sir. My mother struggled hard. I know exactly what it's like to be waiting on line for Medicaid services," Molinaro said. "I will absolutely do more to ensure that the system more effectively assists those struggling and those who are poor because I've never forgotten where I come from. I wasn't born on third base. I've worked hard to get to this very place."

The discussion then turned to safe injection sites and the opioid crisis. Cuomo said they should be looked at and considered.

"Absolutely not," Molinaro said. "We can not give up on these individual lives. Opioid and heroin addiction is the public health crisis of our lifetime, and we are losing so many people."

Molinaro said that more support services have to be available: Expanded access to narcan, more mobile intervention teams, recovery coaches and the like.

Cuomo was asked why New York isn't more progressive on the use of medical marijuana.

"We are now. We were not for years. Mr. Molinaro voted against medical marijuana, he opposes it. Many members of the legislature stopped it for many, many years. That's why we didn't do it earlier, because my opponent voted against it, as well as others," Cuomo said. "We now have medical marijuana, I believe it has helped many, many people... you should ask my opponent why he opposed it."

"I absolutely support the expansion of medical marijuana so that patients that need access can get it," Molinaro said. "Only five months ago the governor actually had the same position I do on legalization. But then in the midst of a Democratic primary decided to have your Department of Health, New York State's Department of Health, change its position. When I'm governor, we don't make decisions on political expedience. We do it based on science, data and fact."

Molinaro said he didn't support medical marijuana a decade ago but now does.

On expansion of charter schools, Cuomo said he would meet with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"We're going to break bread, we're going to have a plate of pasta, we're going to have a bottle of wine, we're going to talk about it," Cuomo said. "So everything is lovey-dovey."

Cuomo and Molinaro both said they support charter schools.

CBS2's Marcia Kramer Talks After The Debate

A question about raising the tone and civility in public life quickly led to another heated exchange.

"Let me finish Marc, I let you finish," Cuomo said.

"When are you going to stop lying?" Molinaro said. "Your description of my life and record is so dishonest, that it's absolutely shameful. It just is."

Both Cuomo and Molinaro said they were not supportive of the state helping to pay for a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

The candidates were then asked a series of lightning round questions.

Cuomo agreed with Molinaro's statement that Dutchess County was "where upstate meets downstate."

Cuomo said the song that personifies him and his campaign was "Empire State Of Mind" and he would not sing any of it. Molinaro said his was "Don't Stop Believin'", but also declined to sing.

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