New York, NY —The New York State gubernatorial candidates hold their second and very possibly final debate on Sunday. Again, at Governor Pataki's insistence, debate number two will include all seven candidates on the ballot. WNYC's Brian Lehrer may be the only person in the state who liked debate number one.
I liked it because of the very thing that made the debate irrelevant: the dominance of the minor party candidates. In a race where Pataki is trying hard to pass as a Democrat, and McCall is trying just as hard to pass as a Republican, thank God someone else was there to make it a debate at all.
Most important was the presence of the Green Party candidate Stanley Aronowitz on the question of taxes and the future of the bus and subway fare. The number one issue in New York State right now is the budget deficit: five billion dollars or more in the coming fiscal year: who'll feel the pain? When asked if they would consider raising taxes, McCall and Pataki were Click and Clack.
Pataki: I will not raise taxes next year.
McCall (summarized): It's a matter of who has the credibility when we say we're not going to raise taxes.
Stanley Aronowitz made it a debate.
Aronowitz (summarized): We cannot close the budget deficit without new taxes on those most able to pay. That would be fair. Otherwise, we'll see more sales and property taxes on the less well off.
On the question of a bus and subway fare increase, only the green Party candidate ruled one out, preferring his tax hike for the wealthy and a higher gasoline tax. This exchange between Carl McCall and Joel Siegel of the Daily News was particularly telling.
McCall and Siegel (summarized): McCall says a fare increase is like a tax hike on the working class, but he won't rule one out depending on the financial condition of the MTA. Asked if some other revenue source could guarantee the current fare, he adamantly states that all other taxes are too high and should not be raised.
So we learned something important after all from this much-disparaged debate. For both George Pataki and Carl McCall, the only two viable candidates, raising taxes on the rich has been adamantly ruled out of bounds. Raising taxes on the working class through a fare hike is in play. Why the double standard? I hope the moderator of today's debate holds their feet to the fire.
I will give Carl McCall his political point: Pataki should also debate him one on one. It's an insult to democracy that the governor refuses to do that, as it was an insult that then-Governor Cuomo refused to go one-on-one with Pataki in 1994. The governor is not interested in promoting multiple points of view with a multi-party debate, just in creating fog in which he can hide. But McCall blew some smoke of his own:
McCall (summarized): He explicitly challenges Pataki or any other candidate on the stage to a one-on-one debate
We followed up on that challenge, and offered our studio for live one-on-one exchanges between McCall and any other candidate who accepted. Four of them did - the Libertarian, Marijuana Reform, Green and Independence Party candidates. Then McCall backed out. We plan to hold some empty chair debates in the coming days.