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Cuomo Finally Agrees to Debate Nixon, on Aug. 29

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has agreed to a televised debate against his Democratic rival, Cynthia Nixon, on Aug. 29, two weeks before primary day on Sept. 13.

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Vivian Wang
, New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has agreed to a televised debate against his Democratic rival, Cynthia Nixon, on Aug. 29, two weeks before primary day on Sept. 13.

The announcement comes after three months of accusations by the Nixon campaign that he was afraid of engaging with her; Cuomo had refused to debate his primary challenger in 2014.

Nixon — an actress, activist and first-time political candidate — has been challenging Cuomo to a debate since May, when she accepted an invitation from WABC and taunted the governor for skipping a debate with Zephyr Teachout, his challenger in the 2014 primary. (At the time, Cuomo said debates could be a “disservice to democracy.”) But Cuomo, as in 2014, had demurred, with his staff saying only that they had received and would review multiple invitations.

But while Nixon, who trails the governor by a wide margin in polls, has made mocking Cuomo’s noncommitment a motif of her campaign, Cuomo’s announcement that he had finally agreed to a debate was muted.

It came not from his official campaign staff but in a sentence embedded near the bottom of a lengthy news release from Byron Brown, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee — and only after six paragraphs blasting Nixon and her likely running mate, Councilman Jumaane D. Williams, as well as President Donald Trump, for not releasing five years of tax returns. (Nixon has released one year.)

“Ms. Nixon and Mr. Williams have said they will release their taxes if the time and date for a debate has been agreed upon,” Brown said. “While there should be no stipulations to basic transparency, both the governor and lieutenant governor have said they would debate.”

He continued: “Now, the excuses have run out.”

The Williams campaign has tied the release of tax returns to a debate; the Nixon campaign has not.

The announcement offered little detail on what had prompted the governor’s acceptance of the invitation from WCBS. But Nixon’s campaign, which also accepted the invitation, quickly seized upon it to accuse the governor of trying to rig the debate in his own favor.

Rebecca Katz, a senior adviser to Nixon, said the Cuomo campaign had negotiated the format and details of the debate with CBS in advance, without consulting the Nixon campaign.

“The result: a debate at Andrew Cuomo’s chosen location and TV station, in his preferred format, with a favorable audience, and on a date in the last week of August when a minimum of New Yorkers will be watching,” Katz said in a statement. “CBS management has acknowledged that the only way to get Gov. Cuomo to show up is by giving him everything he wants. We weren’t even given a seat at the table.”

She added: “Cynthia will debate Gov. Cuomo backwards and in high heels if she has to.”

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Cuomo’s campaign, called Katz’s response paranoid.

“Tricky Nixon is trying to change the topic. It’s time for Nixon, who filed as a corporation, to release five years of her taxes,” Smith said, adding, “What is she hiding?”

According to two sources familiar with the discussions, the debate is scheduled to take place at Hofstra University and last one hour, before an audience of 150 people. The network has proposed Marcia Kramer, a political correspondent, and Maurice DuBois, an anchor, as moderators, the sources said.

Rachel Ferguson, a spokeswoman for CBS, declined to elaborate on the terms or format of the debate. But she struck a diplomatic note on the dispute between the campaigns.

“Ultimately, it is up to the campaigns to agree on the format and other details,” she said. “We hope both sides quickly find common ground so that we can move forward.”

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