Wednesday night’s televised gubernatorial debate drew only about 30 people to Proctors’ GE Theater, most in support of Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins.
Every time Hawkins appeared on the big screen, people cheered and clapped. They wore green “Howie Hawkins” pins, and some held lawn signs by their feet as they sat and watched the debate.
“I agree with Howie Hawkins on a lot of things,” said Gary Lessard, 62, of Schenectady. “Howie Hawkins is right on, and I haven’t disagreed with him on anything yet.”
Lessard said he agrees with Hawkins’ opposition to hydraulic fracturing and his support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He knocked Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo for failing to make a decision on fracking.
But could he win over more voters than Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino on Nov. 4? It’s unlikely, Lessard said.
“Well, it depends on your definition of winning,” he said. “To me, winning is simply moving us in a different direction, away from Cuomo.”
According to a Siena College poll released Wednesday, Hawkins, from Syracuse, is trailing with 9 percent support among state voters. Cuomo holds a commanding lead with 54 percent, while Astorino trails with 33 percent.
The first and only hour-long debate, two weeks before Election Day, was held in Buffalo, featuring Cuomo, Astorino, Hawkins and Libertarian Michael McDermott. The candidates discussed issues including corruption, the minimum wage and taxes.
Albany County Legislator Christine Benedict, a Republican, said halfway through the debate she believes Cuomo “dodged a lot of the questions,” including those on corruption, particularly the Moreland Commission.
“As politicians, they are taught how to dodge these questions,” Benedict said. “The Moreland Commission was brought up, and he says things contrary to what has previously been reported in the media.”
Benedict was unsure about Astorino’s performance during the debate 30 minutes in, but after the closing statements, she said, “now I can say he won this debate.”
The debate drew some political hopefuls to Proctors, including Jim Fischer, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and Tom Jasiewicz, a Republican challenging Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie. Both are supporters of Astorino, who currently serves as Westchester County executive. Astorino also speaks Spanish, and several women in the audience at the theater chuckled when he gave part of his closing statement in Spanish.
Fischer and Jasiewicz said one debate is not enough before people hit the polls.
“The guy with all of the resources presses his advantage,” Fischer said of Cuomo. “That’s a disservice for the people. I think it will come down to two people, Astorino and Cuomo. I don’t know much about Hawkins.”
Fischer said he believes Astorino’s message, “Are we winning, or are we losing?” resonates with people in the Capital Region. In the Democratic primary, all of the region’s counties opted for Cuomo’s challenger, Zephyr Teachout.
“I think Astorino has an excellent chance, although the polling might make supporters get a bit depressed,” Fischer said. “But it will all depend on how many people show up to the polls.”
Jasiewicz said he attended the debate at Proctors so he could watch it along with residents of the 110th Assembly District, which covers parts of Albany and Schenectady counties. After watching the debate, he said Cuomo was simply “all smiles” with nothing to smile about.
“People have been shortchanged by this governor,” Jasiewicz said. “He has been ducking the issues, and from what I saw, Astorino had answers. Astorino has a real pulse in this state.”
Following closing statements, the lights slowly brightened in the GE Theater, with Hawkins supporters filing out. Some stayed behind to discuss the debate and hand out leftover fliers and pins.
“Cuomo is just playing politics,” Lessard said. “I wish this debate was longer, or that there was another one. I’m for Howie Hawkins, all the way.”