As of now, there is no debate scheduled before Election Day between New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and her Republican opponent, Long Island Rep. Lee Zeldin.
There has been, however, plenty of debate about the debate — or perhaps debates, as Zeldin would prefer.
In what has become a New York tradition, the gubernatorial challenger (Zeldin) has spent months challenging the incumbent (Hochul) to a series of debates, which could provide a major platform for the lesser-known challenger to introduce themselves to voters. But Hochul has resisted those calls, just as her recent predecessors have done.
Instead, Hochul has agreed to participate in just a single debate on Oct. 25, hosted by Spectrum News NY1. It’s an event Zeldin has not yet agreed to participate in, perhaps as a way of continuing to pressure Hochul to acquiesce to more debates around the state.
For her part, Hochul doesn’t seem willing to budge.
“I think if you look at history, let's say the last 40 years, there's always been one debate for the general election,” she said from Long Island on Tuesday. “I already participated in two [primary] debates this year. So, you know, we're looking forward to showing up.”
Recent history shows limited general election debates in New York, despite challengers using all sorts of methods to try to get the incumbent to agree to more.
Hochul’s immediate predecessor, former Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, only agreed to one debate, which was hastily assembled at the last minute, against Republican challenger Marc Molinaro in 2018.
In 2014 and 2010 — when Cuomo was the heavy front-runner in a race without an incumbent — the former governor agreed to a single debate each time. But there was a caveat: candidates from minor parties also had to be involved, which led to chaotic events that limited his Republican opponents' screen time. (You might remember Jimmy McMillan, the Rent Is Too Damn High guy.)
Former Republican Gov. George Pataki only debated his opponents once in his three successful campaigns for governor — in 2002, when he agreed to a single seven-way debate. Pataki declined to debate then-Gov. Mario Cuomo in such a crowded setting in 1994, holding out for a one-on-one debate that never happened.
In 1986, Republican Andrew O’Rourke grew frustrated with then-Gov. Mario Cuomo’s reluctance to debate. So he phoned in to a radio show that featured the elder Cuomo, challenging him to 24 debates live on air.
Zeldin has called Hochul’s reluctance to agree to multiple debates “pathetic” and requested at least five debates, including at least three in markets outside of New York City.
He’s also criticized the reach of the one debate Hochul has agreed to, which will be broadcast on Spectrum News NY1 affiliates statewide. Those stations are not available to non-cable subscribers in New York, Zeldin has noted.
Zeldin has agreed to two other debates hosted by other television stations that Hochul has so far declined.
“Voters should have the opportunity to hear where the candidates stand before they vote, not after,” he said in a statement last week. “Meanwhile, the NYC media market is not the only media market in the state. It is important to have debates throughout the state to focus on issues specific to that particular region.”
On Long Island, Hochul said she’s looking forward to the Oct. 25 debate — further cementing it will be the lone debate she agrees to.
“We're looking forward to having a good conversation and letting the voters see the real contrast between me and an extreme individual who does not represent the values of New York,” she said.