NEW YORK CITY — Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's first debate quickly became a negative slugfest Friday.
In the pair's first appearance on stage together since Spitzer made a last-minute entrance into the race, Stringer quickly went on the attack, bringing up Spitzer's resignation after being caught patronizing prostitutes while in office.
The former governor "still doesn't get it," Stringer said. "He didn't go to the voters and say, 'Listen, as your attorney general and governor, I was committing crimes for most of my terms. What he did was resign because there was a federal investigation coming his way."
Spitzer responded by criticizing Stringer over his tenure in the state Assembly — "the most corrupt" in the nation, according to Spitzer — while questioning what real accomplishments Stringer had made.
"I've made mistakes, but I've made a difference," Spitzer said. "I have left an indelible mark speaking to the issues... I think it's fair to say whether it was Wall Street, the environment, low-wage workers, education, unemployment compensation, I have made a mark, I have made a difference."
"And a colossal failure as governor of the state of New York," Stringer shot back.
"We can debate that, Scott," Spitzer responded.
Spitzer said as governor he "broke some eggs" with his hard-charging style, but said it was something voters appreciated and promised to do the same while comptroller.
"You broke your own eggs because you engaged in illicit, illegal activity," Stringer responded, promising to be a comptroller that built coalitions to achieve his goals.
Stringer contrasted his background with that of Spitzer’s sheriff of Wall Street persona, saying he would be "the steward: a responsible manager of our pension system” who would keep the banks in line while also working with them to make pension funds profitable.
Spitzer shot back, accusing Stringer of being asleep on the job in the run-up to 2008, as Wall Street crashed, adding that "it was easy to go along to get along."
"I guess the simple question I would ask, 'Where were you?'" Spitzer asked Stringer.
"You've been on the sidelines for five years," Stringer hit back, noting that the comptroller needs to work cooperatively with both city government and capital markets.
In another exchange, Spitzer's failed attempt as governor to provide undocumented immigrants with state-issued drives licenses became a flashpoint between the candidates.
"When my opponent was in Albany, he couldn't negotiate anything," Stringer charged, accusing Spitzer of being unable to work with either Democrats or Republicans on the issue.
"The political establishment ran for the hills" on the issue of drivers licenses, Spitzer contended. "The political establishment that Mr. Stringer is part of is risk-adverse."
Stringer countered: "The truth is, you dropped the whole immigrant ID thing because you couldn't take the heat on it."