Editorial: Debates should be open to all
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino thinks he's the only legitimate candidate running for governor against Andrew Cuomo, and that therefore he's the only candidate who should be allowed to debate him.
Mr. Astorino is wrong.
The recently annointed GOP candidate on Wednesday told reporters that any political debates involving candidates for governor should include only Cuomo and himself. No one else.
That way, he could make all his points about why he should be governor without the annoying intrusion of other candidates who also might want to be governor but who, in Mr. Astorino's thinking, have no chance of winning.
Why bother the voters with minor party candidates when the election's really going to come down to two guys, he reasons.
Well, the reason we bother with the other candidates is because, for starters, this isn't a two-party system. Our system allows and invites candidates outside the Republican and Democrat establishment to run for office.
These candidates are as legitimate contenders as any of the others, even if they don't have big money backing their candidacies.
Sure, it's likely New Yorkers will give the most combined votes to the endorsed Democrat and the endorsed Republican in this race. But that shouldn't be the bar we set for who we allow to participate in debates.
Among those nobodies that Mr. Astorino wants to exclude could be a candidate from the Working Families Party, which holds its convention on Saturday. Under consideration for the race is Diane Ravitch, a New York University research professor who served as Assistant Secretary of Education and counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the elder Bush's administration. She's got a resume at least as equal to Mr. Astorino's, and she comes with a strong case for education reform, an area where the incumbent governor is considered vulnerable.
Also on the ballot this year is Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, who led the Green Party charge for governor in 2010. While he only got 60,000 votes last time, his candidacy legitimized the Green Party to ensure its place on this year's ballot. He is a strong voice for budget reform, raising the minimum wage and education.
And who can forget the gubernatorial debate in 2010, in which Jimmy McMillan became a sensation with his The Rent is Too Damn High Party candidacy? He’s not on the ballot this year. But even as he was on his way to becoming a Saturday Night Live character, he did raise legitimate issues about high rental rates and poverty in New York City. And he got 40,000 votes in the election.
A political debate involving minority candidates has the potential to create a chaotic atmosphere, in which no candidate gets his or her points across and the incumbent escapes fierce scrutiny by facing watered-down opposition.
But a debate involving all candidates also exposes minority candidates and their issues to the citizens, who otherwise might not get a chance to hear them. And the issues those candidates raise and the questions they ask of the incumbent could have an impact on how those people vote.
Don't be fooled by Astorino's intentions here. He says New Yorkers would best be served by a one-on-one debate between him and Cuomo.
But such an arrangement really best serves just one person — Rob Astorino.