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Debate debacle

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.

Asking students on Hofstra's campus in Hempstead, Long Island, about the debate and its location was almost as daunting to them as a question on statistics. Many of them had no idea what the lost reporters were seeking or what debate they were talking about.

The same may be said for several of the panelists during the gubernatorial debate, if it can be so defined. Far too often, it was a debacle, a charade or, as Blue Magic once sang, "Let the sideshow begin."

Much of the levity--and to some degree it was welcomed given the event's blandness--was provided by Jimmy McMillan and Kristin Davis. With his black gloves, muttonchops and Van Dyke-like chin foliage, McMillan was visually arresting long before he uttered a word. And some of those words brought hilarious harrumphs from the audience filling the physical fitness center.

One of the loudest outbursts of laugher occurred when McMillan, representing the Rent is 2 Damn High Party, said, "If you want to marry a shoe, I'd marry you," he said in reply to a question about gay marriage, though he might have been construed as the shoe.

Davis, of the Anti-Prohibition Party and who formerly ran an escort service, aimed her barbs at Carl Paladino, about whom the less said the better. "Businesses will leave the state faster than Carl Paladino at a gay bar," she quipped, expanding on her comment about job growth and her opposition to a tax on stock transfers. Among her unsubstantiated claims is to have provided escort services to former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

But it wasn't all frivolity and jocularity, particularly when Councilman Charles Barron hammered away at Andrew Cuomo or when Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Libertarian Warren Redlich voiced their opinions on property tax and environmental enforcement.

Barron launched a barrage of zingers, and one of them was directed at Cuomo and Paladino, whom he has often characterized as proponents of "racist malign neglect." On the issue of corruption, Barron of the Freedom Party said, "Asking Andrew Cuomo or Carl Paladino to end corruption is like asking an arsonist to help us put out fires."

Cuomo, Barron charged, would be the "king of layoffs" should he become governor, and he also corrected the attorney general on his misuse of hydraulic fracturing, a process of deriving natural gas from rock formations, which Cuomo called "hydrofracting."

As the frontrunner in the race, Cuomo rarely reacted to any of the assertions or attacks, choosing to let the contenders duke it out amongst themselves. However, when he wasn't reticent, he merely ignored the question and espoused bits of campaign rhetoric. Cutting Medicaid and education, where most of the state's budget is allocated, was his response to three things he would cut if forced, though it was all rather opaque.

In fact, the entire debate was not much to write home about, and there may be a crying need to have a more serious one without the sideshow distractions. Even so, an unofficial poll conducted by the Daily News showed Cuomo the winner, with McMillan coming in second.

Oh well, so much for humor in a race that shouldn't be a laughing matter.