Monday night’s debate at Hofstra University, sponsored by Cablevision’s Newsday and News12, brought together a wild pack of gubernatorial hopefuls (some with more hope than others): Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo, Republican Carl Paladino, Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron, Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party, Libertarian candidate Warren Redlich, Green Party hopeful Howie Hawkins and former madam-turned-Anti-Prohibition candidate Kristin Davis traded barbs on topics ranging from New York’s $8 billion budget deficit, to the MTA, corruption in Albany, and impending personnel and service cuts. Three Press reporters were on-site for the event. Here to debate the debates are Press Senior Editor Spencer Rumsey, Press Web Editor Timothy Bolger, and Press Investigative Editor Christopher Twarowski.
I’m glad Hofstra was the venue for the only debate these candidates will probably have in the Empire State because it’s so close to home. But the set-up for most of the media [at least those of us without the All-Access passes] was annoying since we were separated from the stage by a large black curtain and had to see the candidates through a filter, just like the folks watching in the comfort of their living rooms. I understand the university’s reason for keeping us under wraps, if you will, but it kept us from seeing all seven candidates at once. And their reactions to each other might have been quite revealing. I mean, we didn’t even find out until after it was over that Carl Paladino had gotten up in the middle of it to take a leak. Unfortunately for his candidacy, he returned to the stage.
Yes, those shiny All-Access passes some of Newsday and News12’s platoon of reporters, photographers and camera crews dangled ‘round their necks would have been great, Spence, no doubt. And the subtleties candidates express during such events (seat squirming, nail picking or yes, urination breaks) can be quite revealing, especially with such heavy and pressing topics to answer to—such as how they’re going to close an $8 billion budget deficit, for example. Selective access to public officials—especially during a public forum such as Monday’s debate—in my opinion, is a form of censorship; more specifically, the suppression of information. Restricting access to the vast majority of media outlets while granting it to a chosen few because their parent company, its executives or its owners—or anyone for that matter, up at the top (putting the fact aside for a second that Newsday and News12 are both owned by the same company, Cablevision, a media conglomerate with limited alternatives here on Long Island) wields the political sway, money, power or influence to set it up—flies in the face of the First Amendment and the very meaning of a free and independent press. In doing so, a true, unfettered portrayal of the whole event in its full reality becomes incomplete. Consequently, the possibility exists for that truth to become distorted and perverted, molded and shaped in any way fitting to those with the most political weight, influence, deepest pockets or thirst for power—some of the very tyrannies the Fourth Estate is supposed to be protecting the public from, fighting against. (That being said, the pasta salad was quite good.)
Obstructed view and media caste-system aside, the format itself seemed troubling. Considering there were seven candidates and not giving equal time to all of them would be unfair, the only other option to allow candidates to flesh out their answers better would be to extend the duration of the debate. Even if they extended it for 30 more minutes they’d have time for two more questions each. And who knows, maybe one of them could have been a follow-up on the many loose ends left unaddressed. Some tougher questions would have been nice, too. But I didn’t get detained by Secret Service for three hours this time like at Hofstra’s 2008 presidential debates, so I guess it was a win on my end.
Carl Paladino got the debate he said he wanted, with all the minor party candidates on stage, but the beneficiary was Andrew Cuomo, not him. Paladino will have to put his baseball bat back in mothballs, judging by how poorly he spoke on the issues that mattered most to him. I suppose News12 got what it wanted, too, considering the evening was high in entertaining one-liners (good thing Kristin Davis had a notepad in her lap to read them from) but low in substance. New Yorkers are known for getting in each other’s faces. Especially when they disagree. I wish we’d seen that, instead of this.
Just for the record, Cablevision and father-son owners Charles and James Dolan have contributed at least $165,000 to Andrew Cuomo’s gubernatorial bid, according to campaign disclosure reports filed with the New York State Board of Elections. Still, a bit less than the nearly $200,000 both gave to one-time New York State gubernatorial candidate-former Nassau County Executive-turned-Cablevision Local Media Group Advisor Tom Suozzi (seated nearby his benefactors in the few front rows), but methinks possibly worth mentioning at the start of the debate, no?—either by the Dolans, Newsday and News12’s unbiased moderators, as part of Newsday’s coverage leading up to the event, or on News12’s All-Access live video stream. Oh well. So much for transparency and a free and independent press.