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No debates set for governor's race, as candidates disagree on format

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin
Ashley Hupfl
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin

With about six and a half weeks until Election Day, the two candidates for governor of New York still have not agreed to a single debate. Republican challenger Lee Zeldin said he won’t agree to the one that Governor Kathy Hochul has said yes to, because he wants multiple debates.

Zeldin, who is a congressman from Long Island, said with absentee ballots due to be sent out this week, it’s imperative that Governor Hochul agree immediately to hold multiple debates in several different forums.

Hochul has agreed to just one debate, to be held October 25.

“We have a lot to talk about,” Zeldin said. “And I don’t believe that one hour at the very end of October, over a month after voting has started, that a single debate does this process any justice or respect.”

As a result, Zeldin said for now he is not going to accept the debate offer from Spectrum News and New York One. Zeldin praised the cable channels, saying they have a solid debate track record, but he added many New Yorkers do not subscribe to cable. He also wants debates that are available on broadcast channels statewide.

Zeldin said there is a lot to talk about with his opponent, including the state’s high taxes, which are among the highest in the nation, rising crime rates and the controversial 2019 bail reform law that ended most forms of cash bail. He said he also wants to debate the lack of broadband access, congestion pricing in New York City and whether to end the state’s ban on hydrofracking, a method used to extract natural gas.

He accuses Hochul — who has substantially more campaign cash than Zeldin and who is ahead in the polls — of employing a Rose Garden strategy.

“I’m calling on Governor Hochul to come out of hiding,” Zeldin said.

On Wednesday, Hochul’s campaign issued a statement, saying that the governor, who is seeking a full term in office, has agreed to one debate. It also pointed out that she already engaged in two other debates during the Democratic primary earlier this year. The campaign said the governor will also appear in other “public forums or speaking engagements” related to the governor’s race in the coming weeks.

Hochul on Thursday spoke virtually to the state Democratic Party’s organizational meeting. Although she did not address the debates and did not take questions from the media.

The governor did touch on two campaign issues: Zeldin’s positions against gun control and abortion. She said they show he is too “extreme” to be governor.

“Someone who is trying to take away women’s rights, opposed to abortion, even in the case of incest, rape or life of the mother,” Hochul said. “This is New York state for God’s sake.”

Hochul said she could not attend the Democratic Party meeting in person because she had to instead appear with President Joe Biden for a briefing on relief efforts for storm damage in Puerto Rico.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.