Libous, Orzel Spar in Lively “Binghamton Now” Debate
New York State Senate candidates Thomas Libous and John Orzel engaged in a spirited discussion of the issues in a live radio debate Wednesday on News Radio 1290 WNBF.
The incumbent Libous, a Binghamton Republican, again is being challenged by Orzel, a Whitney Point Democrat, for the 52nd district State Senate seat. The district includes all or parts of Broome, Tioga and Chenango counties.
The candidates met for an hour-long debate on the Binghamton Now program.
Libous and Orzel discussed a range of topics six days before the election.
In his opening statement, Libous highlighted his efforts to work with Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo over the past two years. He said it had been a "pleasant surprise that we've been able to actually move the state in the right direction."
Orzel's opening remarks focused on the local concern that was generated by the powerful storm that left the Southern Tier relatively unscathed. He said more must be done to make flood damage in the region less likely to occur in the future.
Libous and Orzel both await the release of the Department of Environmental Conservation's recommendations about the possibility of high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.
Libous said he believe fracking can be done in an environmentally-safe manner. He said the process should "go slowly" and should occur in parts of the state where there are large quantities of gas.
Libous expressed doubt that gas drilling would go forward in communities that have indicated they're against it. But he said it should be permitted in areas where residents support the process.
Orzel criticized Libous for accepting campaign contributions from pro-fracking land coalitions. Orzel said, in his estimation, that meant Libous had been "bought and paid for."
Libous said he supports "environmentally safe drilling" because the region desperately needs the jobs and the nation needs the gas.
The candidates disagreed on other issues, including changes that the state might consider to help school districts cover operational costs.
Orzel backs a plan that would remove much of the burden of paying for schools from local property taxpayers. Libous challenged the viability of the proposal to institute a state payroll deduction to cover the cost of the salaries and benefits of teachers and administrators.
Orzel said there's a need for a truly independent entity to conduct investigations and deal with allegations of ethical violations in state government. While he supported the creation of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, Libous he would be open to consider the establishment of an independent agency.
Libous said JCOPE is "a start but it's not perfect." To that, Orzel exclaimed: "We agree!"
Orzel noted Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan had filed a complaint against Libous to the ethics commission earlier this year. That prompted Libous to characterize the episode as politically motivated, noting Ryan held a news conference in downtown Binghamton to announce the complaint to local reporters.
Orzel shot back to Libous: "Was your coup politically motivated?" That was a reference to a bizarre sequence events when Republicans, with the help of two Democrats, managed to regain control of the Senate.
Libous said he "couldn't stand" how Democrats, who'd been in control for a few months, were "taxing and spending" in a way he viewed as "out of control."
At one point when the candidates were discussing the state budget process, Libous and Orzel took turns suggesting the other was "a little confused."
Orzel then said New York government's no longer controlled by the so-called "three men in a room." He said if one were to believe the Libous campaign commercials, it's "just two people that are running the state -- it's Tom Libous and his best friend Andrew Cuomo."
Libous said he didn't see anything wrong with a state legislator having a "great relationship with a governor and getting things done for the district he represents."
That prompted Orzel to ask: "You're not going to become a Democrat, are you?"
At the end of the occasionally contentious hour, both candidates shook hands with each other and said they had enjoyed the exchange of views.
As they prepared to pose for a photo, Orzel asked: "We're not going to hug, are we?" Libous: "I'm not going that far." Orzel: "He's saving that for Andrew Cuomo!" Libous: "I think John's jealous of my relationship with the governor."