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Gov. Kathy Hochul agrees to only one debate – while opponent Lee Zeldin pushes for more

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Hochul Zeldin

Republican Lee Zeldin, left, and Democrat Kathy Hochul.

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Democrat Kathy Hochul and Republican Lee Zeldin don't agree on much these days, including when, where and how often to debate issues in the contest for governor of New York.

Though a number of news organizations and other entities have proposed debates at a variety of venues before the Nov. 8 election, incumbent Hochul's campaign insisted Thursday it will participate in only one event on Oct. 25 at Pace University in New York City, sponsored by NY1/Spectrum TV. 

“Governor Hochul looks forward to debating on October 25 and highlighting the clear contrast between her strong record of delivering results and Lee Zeldin’s extreme agenda,” campaign spokesman Jerrel Harvey said.

Hochul's rejection of several debate invitations may reflect her lofty position in statewide polls and the traditional reluctance of front-runners to engage their challenger. Her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, limited his debate appearances to a single event throughout his three elections, despite offers from across the state.

The governor, meanwhile, participated in two debates against her Democratic primary challengers earlier in the year.

But Zeldin has been pushing for a series of face-offs, including at least one upstate affair. One of those is proposed by The Buffalo News and Buffalo Toronto Public Media for late October, to which neither campaign has responded. The proposal called for the debate to take place in Buffalo and be broadcast across the PBS network in New York State.

The Zeldin campaign did not return a request for comment on Thursday. But it said earlier in the week it had accepted proposals from two New York City television stations – WCBS and WPIX – and that Zeldin was planning to show up at the events with or without Hochul.

In the meantime, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in the Town of Tonawanda has also invited Hochul and Zeldin to participate in its annual debate moderated by students and government teacher Ted Lina. The event has become a staple of the Western New York political scene since its introduction in 1984, and St. Joe's students now seek Buffalo resident Hochul and Long Islander Zeldin to participate in its first gubernatorial debate.

"We believe that St. Joe's can offer you the perfect venue. We are a neutral location for both candidates with over 30 years of experience in running high-profile debates," St. Joe's President Christopher M. Fulco said in a letter to the candidates. "All media will be invited to the event, and all major networks typically attend. Also, this is a unique debate since it is moderated by a diverse group of St. Joe's students from our Equity and Justice Club and AP Government class."

Katie Kinder Potenza, marketing director for the Catholic high school for boys, said two high profile St. Joe's graduates – Democratic State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy of Buffalo and Republican Senate Minority Leader Robert G. Ortt – were attempting to make the case for the candidates to participate.

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