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Spitzer and Stringer trade barbs in comptroller debate

Stephon Johnson | 8/15/2013, 9:50 a.m. | Updated on 8/15/2013, 9:50 a.m.
Candidate for Comptroller Eliot Spitzer (Photo courtesy of Spitzer2013.com)

While Monday night’s Democratic comptroller debate tried to focus on how to best handle other people’s money, it quickly devolved into a debate about who New Yorkers trusted more.

Held at the City University of New York Graduate Center, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s second debate focused more on what their opponent isn’t rather than on the questions that concern New Yorkers.

Spitzer claimed that Stringer “ran for mayor three times, and when he didn’t register in the polls,” decided to switch to run for comptroller and made “backroom deals” to clear out all opponents. Stringer stuck to reminding everyone of Spitzer’s resignation from the governorship while under a federal investigation.

“I’ve never embarrassed my constituents,” said Stringer. “Not once, not for one minute, and I never will.”

Spitzer hit back by highlighting Stringer’s lack of name recognition.

“The public doesn’t know who he is or what he’s done for a reason,” Spitzer said.

The debate was moderated by WNYC’s Brian Lehrer and NY1’s Errol Louis. Both tried multiple times to keep the debate from going off of the rails and into name-calling, but were only moderately successful. Even when attempts were made to focus on the topics concerning the comptroller position, like city pensions and overseeing the proper use of city contracts, it went right back to the hard-hitting talking points.

Spitzer stated that he won the trust of the middle class because of his ability to stand up to Wall Street and take them to task over the practices that resulted in the financial collapse. Stringer didn’t believe that there was any current trust between the citizens of New York and Spitzer.

“They don’t trust you, because you let them down,” he said. “Even if what you’re saying is true—that somehow you could foresee the financial calamity, which is, I would say, a stretch at best—when you became governor, you didn’t protect the people from the calamity.

“You resigned in disgrace,” said Stringer.

Spitzer then accused Stringer of supporting a third term for current Mayor Michael Bloomberg while Stringer reminded him that he campaigned for Bill Thompson in 2009.

Another dig occurred when both candidates started hawking their political track records and discussing who had the better editorial in The New York Times. Spitzer said that he had gotten his hands dirty during his 10 years in office.

“That you did,” said Stringer, making a reference to Spitzer’s resignation and his well-publicized trysts with a call girl.

But both candidates, post-debate, believe that they came out on top and that New Yorkers believed their side of the story.

“What I tried to showcase tonight was my record—My record with people to build universities, to create the next economy of the city— and I think I was able to get that out in an effective way.”

Spitzer harkened back to his point about competition when he spoke with reporters post-debate.

“Competition works,” said Spitzer. “Multiple TV channels. Multiple newspapers. Multiple products in a field when you want to buy anything. That is what the public deserves, [and] that’s what I believe in. And somehow, when the establishment said, ‘Oh my goodness, a new candidates getting in. This is bad for our machinations. The chess game they played.’

“It’s good for voters. It’s good for the public,” concluded Spitzer. “That’s what democracy’s all about.”