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Charged Cuomo-Molinaro debate takes on ethics, Bills stadium and more

NEW YORK — In an especially testy encounter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Republican opponent, Marc Molinaro, tangled over taxes, state government corruption, criminal justice and favorite kinds of sausages in what was likely their only debate before the Nov. 6 election.

But they agreed on one point: Neither is ready to commit to funding a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

Cuomo appeared to grow angry as the hourlong debate went on, spending considerable time trying to link Molinaro to President Trump, whose standing in blue-state New York is low. Molinaro called Cuomo's barrage of personal attacks “shameful.’’

The debate, held at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, was largely New York City-centric. It wasn't until 45 minutes into the debate that any kind of upstate-specific question was asked.

The question: Do the two men support using state funds to help finance a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills?

“I’m not at the new stadium point yet,’’ Cuomo said.

“I’m not ready to embrace a new stadium," Molinaro said, one of their few areas of agreement.

It was a question about ethics and corruption issues in Albany that elicited the most fire between the two candidates.

“Governor, you’ve got the most corrupt state government in America,’’ Molinaro said, adding that his economic development programs have "produced more indictments than jobs."

Cuomo snapped that he was never accused of any wrongdoing and that people in his administration who committed crimes had been convicted. That includes Joe Percoco, Cuomo’s longtime friend and adviser who was found guilty this year in a bribery scheme.

Cuomo then pivoted to bring up a job arrangement Molinaro’s wife had with a firm that has business before the Dutchess County government. Molinaro is the Dutchess County executive. Cuomo said it ended up with a deal “putting money in your pocket.’’

“That’s a crime, my friend,’’ Cuomo said, staring at Molinaro.

He accused Molinaro of accepting kickbacks.

Molinaro, who appeared caught off guard by the intensity of Cuomo’s attack, called the allegations untrue. Molinaro again brought up corruption cases that have hit the Cuomo administration, including the bid-rigging case over the Buffalo Billion program at RiverBend.

The back-and-forth reflected the governor's attempt to shift away from what has been several years of sour Albany headlines.

Molinaro sought, instead, to highlight his modest upbringing as Cuomo kept circling back to Trump. Molinaro has said he did not vote for Trump and is selective — depending on the policies — whether he supports or opposes the Trump administration.

“I grew up on food stamps,’’ Molinaro said.

“You remember it?” Cuomo said. “Then give people health care."

“I wasn’t born on third base,’’ Molinaro said.

“Neither was I,’’ said Cuomo, the son of the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The two feuded over property tax levels, state spending and whether people convicted of violent felonies should be allowed to vote again when they are on parole. Molinaro noted the new parolee voting program included convicted sex offenders and a person who killed a policeman.

“The point is these are people who are on parole who served their time," Cuomo said of the parolee program.

Molinaro said Cuomo should have asked the Legislature to consider such a major change in state criminal justice and election law policies.

“Is there no law you are unwilling to bend?’’ Molinaro asked Cuomo.

Cuomo sought to dominate the debate’s 60 minutes, often ignoring the agreed-upon rules — one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for a response. He appeared to ask more questions of Molinaro than the WCBS news team.

Cuomo did not waste time bringing up his most-used line against Molinaro: that he is a “Trump mini-me.’’

"I'm surprised it took him this long to go there,'' Molinaro said of the verbal barb. "You, sir, had him at your bachelor party. I didn't,'' Molinaro added.

Trump did not attend Cuomo's bachelor party in 1990 but sent a video clip to the event with some lighthearted comments.

Molinaro, who wore a pin of Underdog, the cartoon character, on his suit lapel, dismissed the Cuomo assaults after the debate.

“I don’t think New Yorkers saw a governor. I think they saw a bully,’’ he said.

A debate heavily dominated by barbs between the two candidates also touched on the flip. Asked which is their favorite kind of sausage, Cuomo said he prefers Italian sausage over kielbasa. Molinaro prefers his grandmother's Italian sausage.

Cuomo did not talk to the media after the debate.

The debate will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday on CBS.

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