On Sunday, October 30, incumbent Democrat Senator Charles Schumer and Republican challenger Wendy Long debated in the Nott Memorial here at Union.
This was the first and only debate for the New York Senate race this cycle, and was hosted by Time Warner Cable News’ NY1. The 60 minute debate, moderated by Errol Louis and Liz Benjamin of Time Warner Cable News, gave the two senatorial candidates a chance to tell New York citizens and voters what they stand for, and why they should be elected.
The format of the debate differed from any of the presidential debates: candidates got one minute at the beginning for an opening statement, and another minute at the end for a closing statement.
The body of the debate was divided into two segments: the first traditional moderator-directed questions and the second questions from one candidate to the other.
During the first portion of the debate, the moderators asked questions directed at one or both candidates, who were given one minute to reply to the moderators’ questions, and 45 seconds of rebuttal to address their opponent’s answer. More interestingly, in the second half the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions, which the target would get one minute to respond to. At any point, the moderators could give a candidate another 30 seconds of reply time.
During the opening statements, both candidates laid out not just their platforms, but also the kind of candidate they are. Senator Schumer, who has been serving as one of New York’s Senators for more than 17 years, quickly established himself as a long-time fighter and advocate for the middle-class.
He asserted that, “I fought my entire career for the middle class, I was trying to get there because that’s who I am.” He pointed to his middle class up-brining – his father was an exterminator and his mother a housewife – as the reason why he, “worked hard, really hard, to bring jobs, good jobs to the middle class and those aspiring to be there.” He concluded by claiming that, if reelected, he would, “work really hard for the middle class and those trying to get there.”
Wendy Long, on the other hand, set herself up a political outsider bent on challenging the status quo. She explained that she thinks, “that this election is really a big, big turning point,” and that the populace of New York faces a choice between, “more of the same, the establishment, the status quo in Washington,” and a fresher vision. In particular, long echoed a traditional Trump line in claiming that, “there is a very corrupt, pay for play, rigged system going on in Washington.”
The debate itself was satisfyingly substantive in terms of ascertaining the policies of the candidates, and the moderators covered a fairly wide variety of topics, from the recent Clinton emails found by the FBI to the economy to trade and foreign policy.
First up was the FBI’s announcement that it is investigating new Clinton emails. Schumer and Long had predictably different views of the issue: whereas Schumer lambasted FBI Director James Comey’s sending letters to Congress as “appalling” and called it “prosecutorial misconduct,” Long said that she “does not know” whether Comey should be punished, but that it was his obligation to investigate any new leads.
Then, the discussion headed towards the economy, touching first on the state’s economy, then trade and finally big banks and Wall Street regulation. In terms of the local economy, Schumer rehashed his opening statement, maintaining that he has been consistently fighting for good, middle-class jobs.
He cited two measures he took: a transportation bill which he claimed is, “employing thousands and thousands of people,” and a yearly $2,500 tax credit for families sending a child to college. He also indicated that he would like trade reform, saying that, “I opposed NAFTA, I opposed TPP, I think our trade regime is wrong.”
The moderators also asked Schumer whether he was “too close to Wall Street to help Main Street,” to which he responded, “I oppose Wall Street whenever they oppose the interest of the middle class.” He touted his support of Dodd-Frank as strong evidence of his willingness to challenge big banks. Long, however, argued that Schumer’s donor list contains, “quite a list of the too-big-to-fails,” and that “in fact, he was loosening regulation.” The candidates went back and forth on their stances on Wall Street until moderators brought up the next question.
The candidates also debated for a while on the topic of Merrick Garland’s nomination, with Long asserting that Congress was within its rights to hold off on a nomination hearing.
The reason she provided for such a delay was that the Republicans believed that it was a waste of time and money to hold the hearing for Garland, who had previously made decisions concerning Second Amendment rights which the Republicans disagreed with. On the other hand, Schumer claimed that he “finds it really very, very, very bad [that] there has been no vote on Merrick Garland for all these months.”
When it was time, Schumer asked Long about her views on regulations, namely regulations on coal-burning plants in the Ohio valley, the Consumer Financial Protection Board, and protections for unions. Rather surprisingly, Long supported unions, saying that, “I actually believe in unions … I think workers do need more bargaining power.” However, she called the CFPB “a little unconstitutional,” on account of it being a “free-floating agency of the executive branch,” and with respect to coal, she admitted that, “I haven’t really studied the levels of this,” but went on to say that she, “doesn’t think we should be putting coal miners out of work.”
Long then asked Schumer about his major campaign contributors, and whether he feels like the money donated to him comes with certain expectations that companies get something back in return. Schumer replied that he, “does the right thing, and it’s regardless of who contributes and who doesn’t.”
Long also proposed a requirement for politicians to “disclose all official actions that you took on behalf of the rich people giving you all that money,” which Schumer addressed by pointing to his support for overturning the “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court.
Despite the substantive nature of the debate, two factors marred it: the constant attacks by Long against Schumer and Schumer’s far more extensive experience on-stage debating experience. Whereas Schumer essentially never attacked Long directly, Long made a number of remarks about Schumer, primarily calling him corrupt.
Her offensive started nearly as soon as she did, with a comment in her opening statement, claiming that, “many people think my opponent sits at the apex of that system,” referencing the alleged corrupt political system in Washington. She later called Anthony Weiner, under investigation for sexting with 15 year old girl, “your old protégé and friend,” and talked about Amy Schumer, a distant relative of Schumer’s, as an example of a Hillary supporter saying rude or offensive things. This trend continued throughout the debate, and although these claims may or may not be true, some of her policies were lost in the debate.
Schumer, on the other hand, played the stage with an experience hand, garnering a number of laughs and turning several of Long’s attacks against her. At one point, Long was going on the offensive against Schumer concerning his hypocrisy on Garland’s nomination, exclaiming that, “You have held up all kinds of nominations.” In response, Schumer challenged her to, “name one previous supreme court justice who didn’t get a vote in this amount of time.” After a short but notable pause, he continued, “You can’t.” Similarly, when Long challenged Schumer on his large campaign donors and called for transparency, he agreed that transparency is necessary, but argued that repealing the “Citizens United” ruling would be the most effective way to get money out of politics. Then he actually challenged her on the very issue, asking her whether, “would you help us get it repealed?”
Despite this, the debate was fruitful, and was certainly a major indicator of Union’s prominence. President Ainlay, sitting front and center directly behind the moderators, and the Union banner behind the newscasters were powerful symbols of Union broadcast to New Yorkers across the state.