Audrey Tiernan, Pool/AP
Candidates in the New York governor's race — Carl Paladino (from left), Jimmy McMillan, Andrew Cuomo, Charles Barron, Howie Hawkins, Kristin M. Davis and Warren Redlich — participate in Monday's debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
A cast of candidates from across the political spectrum met Monday night in the only scheduled debate of New York's contentious gubernatorial race.
It sounds like the setup for a bad MTV reality show: "Seven candidates ... trapped on one stage ... "
Needless to say, people were expecting a circus. But it ended up being more of a sideshow, with each candidate performing his or her own unique act.
There was Andrew Cuomo, the son of a former governor, who claimed to know New York better than anyone else on the stage, sitting alongside a self-described "Mad as Hell" Tea Partier, Carl Paladino.
Then there's Kristin Davis, a former madam who says she once procured prostitutes for then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer; City Councilman Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panthers; Libertarian Warren Redlich; the Green Party's Howie Hawkins; and, finally, Jimmy McMillan of — yes, it's really on the ballot — the "Rent Is Too Damn High Party."
Step Right Up
The debate was bizarre, but it never got too heated or too personal, and even the usually serious Democratic front-runner started to giggle at one point. "I'm with Jimmy," Cuomo said. "The rent is too damn high."
That's how NPR's Ken Rudin rates the New York gubernatorial race. See his ratings for other midterm matchups at the Election Scorecard.
McMillan — with his wild, swooping mustache and wearing black gloves — had audience members chanting that slogan along with him by the end of the debate. "Someone said I'm a one-issue candidate," he said, "but it all boils down to one thing: Rent is too damn high."
Davis, meanwhile, spent the night finding ways to slip in her prostitution zingers.
"The career politicians in Albany are the biggest whore in this state, and I might be the only person sitting on this stage with experience dealing with them," she said.
Dividing Lines Shifted
In some ways, having so many candidates made for a refreshing change from the usual partisan dividing lines.
Cuomo was under attack for most of the debate — not from the right but from far more liberal candidates, like Barron, who said New Yorkers will lose their jobs, their health care and their pensions if the Democrat gets into office.
And the Republican, Paladino, got slammed not by Cuomo but by another conservative — the Libertarian candidate. Redlich said Paladino has demonstrated in the past few weeks that he "lacks the judgment and temperament to be governor."
Paladino is famous for his outbursts of anger. He recently threatened a reporter. But on this night, surrounded by the swirl of nuttiness, Paladino looked like just another businessman from Buffalo. He even wandered off to the bathroom partway through the debate; he returned, though, with some of his old spark.
"I'm going to tell you my plan. You tell me if it sounds crazy. I'm going to lower income taxes by 10 percent," he started to say.
But the debate ended before he could explain his whole plan. With seven candidates and just 90 minutes, nobody got much time. And the audience members didn't seem to get much new understanding.
"I don't know who won the debate, but we all lost the debate," said Mike Cohen of Long Island.
He said the state is in crisis, the leaders are out to lunch — and this is what New Yorkers get? "It's just nonsense. Funny on one hand, but it's frightening in terms of our democracy."
All those candidates, Cohen said, and no one answers the question.