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Showdown in Buffalo: The candidates for governor meet tonight for their only debate

Tonight in Buffalo, for what is likely the only time in New York’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, the candidates will gather for a televised head-to-head debate over the issues confronting New York.

This debate, co-sponsored by The Buffalo News and WNED/WBFO, will feature the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; his Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino; Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins; and Libertarian candidate Michael McDermott.

It may be interesting to hear what Hawkins and McDermott have to say, and their performances could strengthen their parties for future races, but the meat of this debate will be in the give-and-take between Cuomo and Astorino. One of them will win this race, and for voters who haven’t made up their minds, the debate could be decisive.

Here are some questions we hope the candidates will answer. Voters should listen for responses that are clear and informative and that don’t seek to dodge the issue.

• The two major-party candidates have taken steps to improve the financial performance of their jurisdictions, yet each has also criticized the other for high taxes in the state and in Westchester County. Is the criticism fair? Why didn’t you do better?

• Given the reality of Democratic control of the Assembly and the strong possibility that Democrats will also control the Senate next year, what will be your realistic strategy to make the state more business friendly?

• Do you support hydrofracking in New York? If so, what steps should be taken to ensure its safety to people and the environment?

• The battle against corruption in Albany is not over. What will you do to attack that problem? What new ethics laws, if any, do you support? Do you support public financing of elections?

• What will you do to continue to build on the economic promise of the Buffalo Billion? What will you do for other upstate regions that could similarly benefit?

• Explain your position on the Election Day referendum on redistricting. Is it a good deal for voters? Will lawmakers retain too much power over the process to produce a map that is free from gerrymandering? Should voters approve it, despite whatever defects you may perceive?

• What is your position on the Common Core standards for schools? If you support them, what would you do to ensure their ultimate success? If you oppose them, what would you do differently to ensure that New York students are learning at a high level?

• Should the SAFE Act, passed in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings, be maintained, altered or repealed. Why?

• The state has enacted a hard cap on the Medicaid expenses of New York’s counties. Is that sufficient to control the costs of an expensive program, or should more be done? What?

This debate is the only joint appearance of the candidates. In the race for an office as important as governor of New York, that is unfortunate. The candidates should agree to at least one more televised debate before the election.

The one-hour debate is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m., and will be streamed live on BuffaloNews.com. It will also be broadcast on WNED-TV and WBFO-FM, 88.7.