They forgot about Upstate

The two candidates running for the Democratic Party nomination for governor — incumbent Andrew Cuomo and challenger Cynthia Nixon — staged their one and only debate Aug. 29 at Hofstra University on Long Island. They did Upstate New York voters a disservice by largely ignoring their concerns.

Cuomo and Nixon spent most of their hour sparring over problems with the New York City subways, the current occupant of the White House, whether Cuomo would run for president in 2020 and the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (nee Tappan Zee).

Sure, the candidates addressed issues that concern voters statewide: corruption in the Cuomo administration’s economic development schemes; the idea of single-payer health care; the collapse of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate; the corrosive influence of campaign contributions; and State Police troopers from Upstate sent to patrol in New York City.

But they said nothing about reducing New York’s high property taxes (also a problem on Long Island, by the way). Or stanching the exodus of young people from opportunity-starved Upstate cities. Or what to do about the financially struggling Upstate casinos, once touted as a source of jobs and growth. Or the wisdom of the Buffalo Billion, the DeWitt film hub or any number of high-profile projects funded by the Cuomo administration. Or the sorry state of our infrastructure and public transportation systems. Or the problems of the dairy industry. Or the future of the Adirondack Park.

Let’s not be too hard on the debate’s moderators from CBS New York. (Been there, done that, and it’s not easy.) It’s only natural they would focus on the concerns of their audience. Up to now, Nixon’s campaign has focused on New York City almost exclusively; she reportedly will make a swing through Upstate in the coming days, including a meet-and-greet scheduled for Saturday in Syracuse.

Simply put, there should have been more candidate debates in different parts of the state. Voters in a state as big and diverse as New York deserve as much. Incumbents have little to gain from them, but it’s their duty as candidates for public office to explain their positions and defend their actions. Perhaps we should be grateful that there was even one debate — that’s one more than Cuomo did in the 2014 primary cycle — but it’s not enough.

The irony is that Cuomo has a good story to tell about Upstate. This governor has paid more attention to the geographic bulk of this state than many other governors before him. He speaks often of the political imbalance between Upstate Republicans and Downstate Democrats in the state Legislature. We can debate the merits of specific projects, but the state’s huge investments in Upstate cities, our parks, our brewing and wine industries and even the New York State Fair are having an impact.

Primaries are usually low-turnout affairs; fewer than 10 percent of the state’s 5.8 million registered Democrats voted in the 2014 gubernatorial primary. More than half of those voters came from New York City.

If Upstate voters want candidates to pay attention to their concerns, they know what to do: Vote in the primary on Thursday, if you are eligible, and in the general election Nov. 6.

The Syracuse Post-Standard