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Gov Debate Full of 3rd Parties and 1-liners, But What Really Went Down?

Candidates for New York State Governor participate in the 2010 Gubernatorial debate held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. from left, Carl Paladino, Jimmy McMillan, Andrew Cuomo, Charles Barron, Howie Hawkins, Kristin M. Davis, Warren Redlich on Monday, Oct. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

The post-debate spin was predictable, coming as it was from Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, but the observation was undeniable. Among the seven gubernatorial candidates on stage at Hofstra University Monday night, Andrew Cuomo “was the adult.” And given the severity of the problems facing New Yorkers, maybe it’s time a grown-up took charge.


In his younger days, Cuomo would’ve  taken the bait from the underdogs and let his temper flare. Here, he played it cool.He acted passionate when it mattered, and pragmatic when it counted. If he broke a sweat during the evening, it didn’t show. And if he never had to reveal the nitty-gritty details beneath his superficial answers, it didn’t matter. He knows that, come January, he’ll have to let it all hang out. For better or worse.

By then New Yorkers may look back at this debate, so far the only one held in the Empire State, and wonder what the other candidates had in mind to get us out of this mess. It’ll be too late for buyer’s remorse, but not too late to determine if somebody else had anything worth trying. The way things look now, with more than 800,000 people unemployed and foreclosures on the rise, we’ll need all the help we can get.

Talking Heads

Carl Paladino certainly didn’t inspire. The candidate of the Republican and the Conservative parties looked fidgety, frustrated and flaccid. When it was his turn, he sounded almost too calm. He had the forum he’d wanted with Cuomo, but he was remarkably incoherent. Without his bat-wielding rage (as in, he’s going to “take a baseball bat to Albany”), he sputtered like a tea pot taken off the burner, just letting off steam. Why did he ever want to share the spotlight with the third-party candidates (as he insisted)? That quickly became obvious: He needed the cover. Out on his own, he couldn’t hold forth on anything substantive.

Said New York State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, “If you’re going to tell me Carl Paladino is not a professional politician, I’m going to agree with you.” No argument there.

“My critics, they want to say I’m angry,” Paladino said in closing. “No, I’m passionate about saving the state of New York. Our government doesn’t need a tweaking. It needs a major overhaul now.”

His comments were typical for the evening: lacking in detail. OK, so he supports school vouchers and wants to cut income tax by 10 percent. His math doesn’t add up, particularly when he said that California’s Medicare spending was “100 percent” less than New York’s $54 billion, which would have meant the Golden State’s payment was a giant goose egg. When he was denouncing the unions, Paladino mislabeled the United Federation of Teachers the “United Teachers Association.” But the audience got the point: He hates the present public education system.

The debate format didn’t help. The candidates got 90 seconds to, say, solve the state’s looming $8 billion budget deficit. The answers were pie in the sky, at best.

Kristin Davis, the former madam running on the Anti-Prohibition line, would legalize pot and gambling. She says the state would reap about $3 billion, but who knows? She would set the legal age for pot smoking at 18 years old; of course, that might cut into her revenue stream, but so be it. The Rent Is 2 Damn High Party’s Jimmy McMillan, the Vietnam vet who sported facial hair that would put both Colonel Sanders and the Wizard of Oz to shame, said he’d cut the rent, which is “too damn high” (emphasis on damn). He’d put that extra money back in people’s pockets to fuel demand. Maybe he borrowed a bong from Davis’ handlers before the debate, because he said somehow he’d create a $3 billion state budget surplus and use that money to add 3 million jobs. He also promised to bulldoze our mountains upstate; not sure how that would boost the economy, but it sounded impressive.

We’ll never know how former Black Panther Charles Barron, now a New York City councilman, really felt being on the same stage with McMillan, who was clearly the crowd favorite (next to the artificially glamorous Kristin Davis), but Barron is a very serious man, especially on issues of racism, police brutality and social injustice. Wearing his trademark Nehru jacket, Barron, the Freedom Party candidate, seemed more a throwback to the 1960s than he probably intended. With fervor, he railed against Cuomo, dubbing him the “king of layoffs,” because his budget-cutting plans for the state will decimate organized labor. It’s “easy to bully the unions,” Barron said. Both Barron and Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate, whose gray beard was a pale contrast to McMillan’s masterpiece, struck the same chord about “progressive taxation.” Hawkins, a native Californian and a former Marine, currently unloads UPS trucks in Syracuse, where he ran for mayor—and lost—in 2005. After the debate, he provided the Long Island Press more details of his taxation package than he’d given in the debate. In essence, Hawkins would return our state income tax structure to the 1970s, when the top tax tier was 14.5 percent. These days, the rate is 7.85 percent for those with incomes over $200,000. How times have changed.

Second the Emotion

When they weren’t taking their shots at the front-runner, the other candidates’ No. 2 target seemed to be the MTA. Hawkins said the MTA is “an ATM for big banks.” Kristin Davis said that “the key difference between the MTA and my former escort agency is that I operated one set of books and my former agency delivered on-time and reliable service.” Paladino said he’d abolish the MTA and turn its functions over to the transportation department. Warren Redlich, the Libertarian candidate who writes screenplays in his spare time when he’s not running his business “and making payroll every two weeks,” said he’d privatize the MTA “like in Japan.”

After the debate, Redlich told the Long Island Press Paladino was finished as a challenger and his own strategy, to become “an island of sanity” on the campaign trail, had paid off at Hofstra. He claimed Roger Stone, the well-known political operative who’s been consulting with Paladino and Davis’ campaigns, was, in effect, ripping Paladino off by “taking money from Paladino” and using it to keep Davis in the public eye. Why, you might ask? To possibly siphon more votes from the left-wing of the political spectrum that would otherwise go to Cuomo, he explained. It’s as good an explanation as any.

The Green Party is definitely trying to draw support from Cuomo’s liberal Democrats, as well as from the more progressive Working Families Party, which is using Cuomo’s name at the top of its ticket to keep it alive. If the WFP comes up short of the 50,000 votes it needs on Nov. 2, it won’t be on the ballot going forward. Hawkins had no sympathy for the WFP, saying the party had sold out its union supporters as it compromised with Cuomo’s more conservative agenda (though Cuomo would claim he’s taking a more fiscally realistic approach) to solving the increasing problems of funding the public employees’ pensions. Hawkins said his Green Party pulls the Democratic Party to the left, while the WFP “is pushing the Democratic Party to the right.” But when you’re talking about a couple of hundred thousand people in a state of millions, it may be moot.

One thing’s for sure, the rent ain’t the only thing that’s “too damn high.”

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