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Source: Newsday

Gubernatorial candidates face off at Hofstra

Posted: October 21, 2010
Originally Published: October 18, 2010

In a generally civil debate marked by moments of levity provided by fringe candidates, the seven contenders for New York governor squared off at Hofstra University on Monday in what may be their only debate before the Nov. 2 general election.

Taking questions from journalists and citizens in the audience, the candidates expounded for 90 minutes on topics such as taxes, state spending, education, transportation - and the obscure energy issue of hydraulic fracturing.

Republican Carl Paladino, behind by double digits in some polls, appeared flustered early in the debate but generally held his fire. Democratic front-runner Andrew Cuomo made no obvious mistakes.

Five minor-party candidates collectively got the majority of the face time, and they made the most of it.

Former madam Kristin Davis of the Anti-Prohibition Party called for legalizing marijuana and casino gambling. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins scored ties between politicians and Wall Street. And Jimmy McMillan repeated his catchphrase and party name: "Rent is too damn high."

The debate closed with a flourish at about 8:30 p.m. as Paladino vowed to cut state spending by 20 percent and Cuomo said he would restore the state's battered reputation.

Cuomo acknowledged that the state's government "has been an embarrassment" due to the resignation of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and a host of other scandals.

But, he said, "No state has anything on New York State. ... We're going to make New York State the Empire State again."

Paladino closed by saying he was "passionate about New York" and vowing "a major overhaul - now."

"My plan scares to death these career politicians in Albany," he said. "That's why they call me crazy."

Seated in a row of chairs, the candidates, including Cuomo and Paladino, were greeted by applause from the audience as they were introduced.

The debate was broadcast live on cable television stations News 12 Long Island, NY1 News, NY1 Noticias and YNN. It also was carried by National Public Radio stations and streamed live over news12.com, newsday.com, ny1.com and ny1noticias.com.

Besides Cuomo, who also has the Working Families and Independence parties, and Paladino, also running on the Conservative and Taxpayers parties, the candidates were: Hawkins; Warren Redlich, Libertarian Party; Charles Barron, Freedom Party; Davis and McMillan, of the Rent Is 2 Damn High Party.

The candidates answered questions posed by moderators, including Newsday columnist Joye Brown, and audience members. At one point, following a question by Long Island environmentalist Adrienne Esposito, the candidates engaged in a lengthy mini-debate on hydraulic fracturing, or hydrocracking, a process of drilling for natural gas.

The candidates squared off over issues such as taxes and spending, job creation and education.

On the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the candidates competed to out-outrage one another as they criticized the authority's proposal for higher fares and bloated overtime and pension costs.

"Nobody is in charge," Cuomo said, calling the MTA an example of "government that doesn't get it."

"Put the governor in charge," he said.

Paladino called the MTA "a poster child for waste, fraud, incompetence, patronage." He said he would eliminate the MTA payroll tax.

"We have one big beast that keeps sucking up money," Paladino said.

In the opening minutes of the debate, Paladino said New York was bogged down by "out of control costs" of programs such as Medicaid, which he said has "brought us to our knees."

And he scored education mandates. "The centralization of these, with faceless people ... is bad," Paladino said.

Cuomo said hundreds of municipal governments, school boards and special districts have contributed to high taxes.

"We have too many governments in the state of New York," he said. "You have to consolidate those governments. We can't afford them anymore."

At times, the candidates took potshots at one another but they did not always return fire.

Criticized by Redlich for taking state money as a Buffalo landlord and contributing to the candidates of Sen. Charles Schumer and former Sen. Hillary Clinton, Paladino refused to take the bait and instead heaped scorn on elected officials.

"[Voters] look at Washington, they look at Albany and they see chaos," he said.

After McMillan repeated his catchphrase - "Rent is too damn high" - Cuomo agreed with him. "Rent is too damn high," he said, as McMillan tapped him on the shoulder.

Following a question by a business owner about helping small businesses and job-seekers, Cuomo said the next governor "would have to get taxes under control" and develop "targeted tax incentives." He mentioned a job incubator in Stony Brook.

Paladino blamed the failure to add jobs on what he called "debilitating rules and regulations handed out by bureaucracy."

The minor-party candidates appeared to relish their opportunity to speak to potentially millions of voters.

Barron said textbooks should include more African-Americans.

"We need a curriculum that shows the true nature of our society," he said.

McMillan, wearing black gloves on both hands, said he supported President Barack Obama's economic policy.

Redlich, as he introduced himself to voters, alluded to the sex scandal that forced Spitzer's resignation.

"My name is Warren Redlich," he said. "I've never been caught with a prostitute."