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New York governor's race finally gets a debate

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October 19, 2010

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony


HEMPSTEAD, New York: Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl P. Paladino challenged his opposite number, Democrat Andrew Cuomo, to debate the day after the primaries. However, Paladino's insistence on including all candidates and Cuomo's preference to limit the debate to major party nominees created a problem. New York's bewildering array of parties has led to a bumper crop of would-be governors in 2010.

It may have taken until late October, but last night the governor's race finally saw its first, and likely, only, debate. Hofstra University, in Hempstead, New York, won the distinction of hosting the event.

Two weeks away from the election, the entire slate of gubernatorial hopeful finally made it onto the stage. Paladino ultimately did get his way on having all minor parts contenders allowed to debate, but Democrat Andrew Cuomo's resistance to the idea turned out to have been ill-founded.

Democratic strategists had feared that an us-against-him messaging assault that portrayed Paladino, well behind in the polls, and the assorted third party hopefuls, in a unified front against front-running Cuomo would arouse public sympathy and hurt their own campaign.

Instead, the peculiar array of key issues that third parties brought to the debate and Paladino's trouble staying on message allowed Cuomo to walk away as the winner. His appearance alone got attention as he has been an increasingly media-shy candidate.

Sharing the stage were Kristin Davis an ex-madam running on a platform to, among other things, legalize prostitution and marijuana; Charles Barron, a Black Panther activist-cum-New York City Council man, and "Rent is 2 Damn High" candidate Jimmy McMillan, who goes by Papa Smurf and wore dress gloves during the entire debate.

Libertarian Warren Redlich was the lone candidate to press Cuomo on special interest donors to his campaign and what that would mean for his tenure in Albany. It was Charles Barron, of the Freedom Party, who pointed out what Cuomo had adroitly avoided saying about his own plans to slash spending and streamline state government; namely, that the trimming process is bound to be painful.[1]

Ultimately, Paladino missed out on throwing any similarly insightful barbs at his main opponent. The beleaguered candidate instead repeatedly confused Medicare and Medicaid and consistently went over his allotted time, leading to his microphone being cut off more than once.

The proliferation of candidates may also have lead to a loss of clarity in any one speaker conveying a point and answering rebuttals; the need to give 90 seconds for comments and another half minute for follow-up to each of seven participants worked against coherence.

Cuomo touted his years of political experience and discussed a platform that probably sounded familiar to a lot of Republicans - the need to restrain spending, eliminate redundant and wasteful government programs, and even to cut state tax rates. Despite concerns that the vicious tone the major gubernatorial candidates have taken against each other in the media would infuse the debate, there were no outright insults from either Paladino or Cuomo.[2] Nor did Paladino use the stage to deliver up proof of a sex scandal that would tar Cuomo, something he has declared he has coming.

Instead, Paladino left many in the audience confused when he made an unannounced exit from the stage in the midst of closing statements. He later explained that he'd needed to find a restroom.

The day after the debate, Paladino declared the format had been "terrible" and fumed that it kept Cuomo from facing a real "grilling."[3] However, said he was pleased with his own performance and noted, "I think we illustrated that we’re not the Angry Carl.”[4]

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