By Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 18, 2010; 10:22 PM
Miracles can happen.
The likely one and only debate in the mud-slinging New York governor's race was fast-moving and polite Monday night, with the two leading candidates staying focused on the state's many problems - its $8 billion budget deficit, poor educational standings and lost of jobs.
State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the front-runner who had the most to lose, delivered a polished performance. He vowed to shake up business-as-usual in Albany, cut programs and clean up corruption.
Cuomo called the state government a "national embarrassment."
"You hear this issue from Montauk to Buffalo," he says. "People just don't have faith in state government anymore. If you don't have trust in the government, then you have nothing."
His GOP opponent, tea-party-supported businessman Carl Paladino, kept his characteristic bluster in check, and he appeared to be using the opportunity to come across as a more mainstream politician, one voters could picture as governor. But he seemed stiff at times.
"Our Medicare costs are wrought with fraud, waste and abuse," he said. "This bureaucracy in Albany forces their mandates and their policies down on local school districts. The centralization of these policies with faceless people and in an environment totally unaccountable to the people is bad."
A cable news channel invited all seven gubernatorial candidates to Long Island's Hofstra University. The participants included former madam Kristen Davis, who says she provided escorts for former governor Eliot Spitzer; Jimmy McMillan, the candidate of the Rent Is Too Damn High party, who wore black gloves throughout the debate; and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a former member of the Black Panther Party now representing the Freedom Party.
The inclusion of so many long shots risked turning the debate into an unwieldy circus, but the evening's tight format prevented any free-wheeling exchanges.
Davis, however, got one humorous shot at Paladino. Playing off Paladino's denunciation of gays last week, she said that if Albany passes a stock transfer tax, "businesses will leave the state faster than Carl Paladino at a gay bar."
The New York Post, a conservative-leaning tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, endorsed Cuomo ahead of the debate, saying there was "something refreshing" about Paladino at the outset of his campaign until "a screw popped loose."
Paladino has a proven knack for controversy. During the campaign, he got into an altercation with a New York Post reporter, he suggested that reporters look into Cuomo's personal life, and he has sent vulgar and pornographic e-mails to his friends and co-workers.
The Buffalo developer addressed his volatility in his closing statement.
"My critics, they want to say I'm angry. No, I'm passionate about saving the state of New York. Our government doesn't need a tweaking. It needs a major overhaul, now," Paladino said.
After laying out his platform, he asked voters, "You tell me if it sounds crazy. I'm going to lower income taxes by 10 percent."
In a New York Times survey released late Sunday, 59 percent of likely voters in the state say they support Cuomo.