As Statewide Elections on September 13 Draw Near, Debates Ensue


By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq.

The race for New York state attorney general is still very much up in the air, and while Andrew Cuomo is purported to be a shoo in for Governor, Cynthia Nixon is giving him a run for his money.

The primary election that will determine the winners is less than two weeks away. There are four candidates for attorney general —Leecia Eve, a former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo; Letitia (Tish) James, New York City’s current public advocate and former City Council Member for Brooklyn’s District 35; U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who represents parts of the Hudson Valley; and Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor whose claim to fame was running against Governor Andrew Cuomo last term. The candidates all jumped into the race after former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned upon several allegations of domestic abuse from previous romantic partners.

It is likely that whomever emerges victorious in the Democratic primary election will be New York’s new attorney general. Any of the four candidates will make history in New York State. Eve, James or Teachout would be the first woman elected to the position. Either Eve or James would be the first African-American woman to hold statewide office. Maloney would be the first openly gay attorney general in the state.

James, deemed the front-runner so far, enjoys the official support of the state Democratic Party and Governor Cuomo. Teachout, who recently won endorsements from the New York Times and the Daily News, is running during a zeitgeist when activist candidates on the left are rising to power. Teachout also received the endorsement of New York’s newest star in politics, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated long-serving Representative Joe Crowley in possibly the biggest political upset in New York all year.

From left to right: Letitia James, Sean Patrick Maloney, Leecia Eve, and Zephyr Teachout, are candidates running for NYS Attorney General. The Democratic primary election is on Sept. 13.

At a debate held at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tuesday, the candidates all seemed to gang up on Teachout. It’s possible that candidates are feeling most threatened by her. “You’ve only been [a member of] the bar in New York State for about three days,” James said in one of multiple attacks on Teachout, referencing her recent admission to the state bar. “What we need now, more than ever, is an attorney general who knows the law; who is a proud member of the New York State bar and who understands that this is not an academic exercise.” Teachout took a jab at James’ connection to the establishment: “I am independent of political party machines and that is important to take on the corruption crisis we have here in New York state,” Teachout said.

At the debate, all candidates made fighting against Trump the centerfold of their messaging. They each pointedly promised to take on Trump and protect against his administration’s conservative policies. Each candidate seized on a moment when the national spotlight is on Trump, and committed to investigate Trump’s businesses and associates.

On Wednesday night, a fiery debate took place at Hofstra University between gubernatorial candidates Andrew Cuomo and Cynthia Nixon. Many political pundits deemed Nixon to be the winner of the debate. Cuomo enjoys the upper-hand because of the major fundraising successes of his campaign, as well as being 35 points ahead of Nixon in the polls. It should be noted however that Joe Crowley was also 35 points ahead of rising star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez before the election. Ocasio-Cortez, an underdog, ended up victorious in the election.

During the debate, Cuomo appeared agitated often, even stuttering at times. He tried accusing Nixon of not understanding how the legislative process works, to which she came back with practical legislative and policy ideas. Cuomo tried to attack Nixon for forming a limited liability corporation to collect income, which she aptly indicated was standard procedure in the entertainment industry. “You are a corporation,” said Cuomo. “I am a person,” said Nixon. “And you’re a corporation,” Cuomo retorted. Some of the audience members chuckled.

If Cuomo didn’t feel threatened, he probably wouldn’t have agreed to debate Nixon. He has rested on his laurels for many years, and also comes from a lineage of politicians. When Cuomo sought re-election last time around, he refused to debate Zephyr Teachout. He did agree to debate Nixon, which is a good sign for her candidacy.

Among the highlights of the debate was when Cuomo ruled out a presidential bid in 2020. In response to a question from moderator Maurice DuBois about whether he would leave his post as governor to run for president, Cuomo said, “The only caveat is if God strikes me dead. Otherwise I will serve four years as governor of New York.”

In a conversation about marijuana, both Cuomo and Nixon agreed that there was value to legalization. Nixon said, “Marijuana has been legal for white people for a long time. It’s time to make it legal for everyone else.” In an attempt to strike a chord with viewers, Cuomo volunteered that he smoked marijuana in college and that he’s given advice and guidance so his own children can make “responsible choices.”

Like the debate between the candidates for attorney general, at Wednesday’s gubernatorial debate, the candidates focused on positioning themselves against Trump. Cuomo noted that Trump attacks him on Twitter every week, and said, “I welcome it. Know me by my enemies.” Nixon, who like Trump has never served in government in any capacity, said: “Experience doesn’t mean that much if you’re actually not good at governing.”

The candidates also feuded over Cuomo’s handling of the MTA, with Nixon referring to the system as “Cuomo’s MTA.” With one of many memorable one-liners that night, Nixon said, “He used the MTA like an ATM, and we see the result.” Cuomo responded by saying that the NYC Transit Authority, which is a branch of the MTA, should have more funding from the City, likely appealing to upstate voters who don’t want to contribute towards a subway they don’t use.

Nixon indicated that while Governor Cuomo may appear to be progressive, he’s more talk than action. “We need to oppose Donald Trump not just with rhetoric but with policy.”

Among the agenda that Nixon laid out at the debate was allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, increased state investment in education, healthcare and affordable housing, and passing legislation to strengthen the power of public sector unions to go on strike.

Regardless of who you choose among all the candidates, be sure to come to an informed decision and exercise one of the most important rights that this country affords you.



The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.