The debate

December 15, 2010 9:42:46 AM PST
So if you're the front runner - and the latest poll shows you up by 35 or so points - what are you thinking, going into what is likely to be the only debate of the election for Governor of New York?

Are you aggressive - fighting back against the allegations and arrows that your opponents will throw at you? Or do you play it cool - trying mostly to avoid any kind of gaffe? Or are you a little bit aggressive and a little bit cautious?

Such is the conundrum facing Andrew Cuomo tonight in the first - and what could be the only - debate between the candidates running for governor.

It could be an interesting debate, or it could be quite a circus. Or maybe even a little of both.

You've got the Attorney General who wants to follow in his father's footsteps and become Governor. You've got a successful real estate businessman who is the Republican candidate, but who's also backed by the Tea Party, who makes headlines just about every time he talks because he typically says something bound to offend somebody. You've got a former madam who wants to legalize prostitution. You've got a New York City Councilman best known for being angry rather than offering anything program that's positive (and there certainly is a role for angry politician on the City Council). You've got a Vietnam War vet who takes to the streets shouting from his car for "social justice" and who's campaigning on the slogan that the "rent is too damn high." You've a UPS worker - he unloads trucks - who is running for the Green Party and thinks "the whole fiscal crisis is not a real fiscal crisis." And a Libertarian lawyer who moonlights as a screenwriter whose role model is Congressman Ron Paul.

Should be quite a night at Hofstra University.

A real debate would be between the two candidates with at least 15% standing in the polls - and that would be Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino. But by putting Paladino with five other minor candidates, some experts say, it diminishes him even more in the eyes of the public and would, by extension, be a safer play for Cuomo.

Pitting Cuomo vs. Paladino, mano y mano, would do the opposite, or at least so the expert thinking goes.

But after tonight, Cuomo will say he's debated - taking away any potential shot by Paladino that the frontrunner is afraid to debate - and minimizing any risk that definitely comes from any debate.

I don't want to for a nanosecond take away from the Democracy-at-play part of all this. There is something genuine and grass-roots about everyone who managed to garner enough signatures to get on the ballot to then manage to get on the debate panel. But the reality is that a real debate, where each candidate can have the time for voters to hear how they think - and think on their feet - and offer their platforms and positions is an important public service for an important public office. And when you have the circus-like atmosphere that usually comes with a seven-candidate "debate" you get more style than substance, more one-liners than serious policy offerings.

I'm just sayin'.

Our political reporter Dave Evans will be at Hofstra tonight, and will have highlights from the debate, tonight at 11.

We're following two sad stories tonight involving college football players. The first is a player from Rutgers who lies paralyzed from the neck down after tackling an opposing player on a kick return. The second is a senior at Pace, who was shot and killed outside a bar/restaurant in Westchester County after police say he tried to run down a cop. The officers, who had gone to the bar/restaurant to answer a disturbance call, opened fire and killed the driver. The D.A. says he's investigating, and there are those who are questioning the police shooting. This kid was apparently a model student. But the hard truth is - whether you're drunk or not, and we don't know if he was - if you use your car as a weapon, and if you use it against a police officer, you'll likely get shot.

And we're taking a closer look at a new New York City law that requires new buildings to have bike storage rooms for tenants. It's part of an explosion in bike use; even older buildings, responding to demand from tenants, have established or expanded bike storage rooms. Darla Miles has our story tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Scott Clark with the night's sports, including highlights of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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