NEW YORK Eliot Spitzer, trying to rebound from a sex scandal that cost him the New York governorship, promised to work for a dollar a year while his opponent tried to sing a chorus from David Bowie's "Heroes" as part of Wednesday's debate between the two Democratic candidates for New York City's comptroller.
Spitzer now also has a date booked to baby-sit for the children of opponent Scott Stringer and the two candidates have pledged to sit down over coffee and go over Spitzer's tax returns.
The last live debate before the Democratic primaries on September 10 was a mix of policy minutiae about the city's pension funds, testy personal exchanges, and off-the-wall moments such as Stringer's rendition of "Heroes" and Spitzer's awkward pledge to forgo his salary.
But behind the political theater were the very real - if less entertaining - issues of managing the city's $140 billion public pension fund, being a watchdog for a $70 billion city budget, and auditing a myriad of city agencies.
The new comptroller will inherit a city that is projecting a budget gap of $2.2 billion in fiscal year 2015. Fixed public sector benefit costs are growing at nearly 8 percent a year, and public sector workers are demanding retroactive pay increases that the city says could cost nearly $8 billion.
"We can be a strong counterweight to the mayor, we can hold agencies accountable," Stringer said, envisioning his future team in the comptroller's office. "It's going to take revitalizing that office, energizing that office, getting it out of the web of bureaucracy."
Stringer, the Manhattan borough president and favorite of the local Democratic establishment, was considered certain for the nomination before Spitzer announced that he would run at the start of July. That has allowed Spitzer to cast himself as an underdog while at the same time surging ahead in the polls.
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Spitzer has a 19-point lead over his rival. He has a particularly strong advantage among black voters, where he leads Stringer 68 percent to 21 percent. He also an 18-point lead among women despite being attacked by some women's groups.
Spitzer called on voters to "elect someone who is independent of the political infrastructure that has not endorsed me because they see me as a threat to an ossified broken system."
Spitzer was forced to resign as governor in 2008 after a prostitution scandal, an issue that has been a key element in the race and a central line of attack for Stringer.
Before his fall, Spitzer won a fierce reputation as state attorney general from 1999 to 2006 for going after dubious securities practices at Wall Street banks. That earned him both enemies and supporters in equal numbers.
New York state's general election will be held on November 5. The winner of the Democratic primary will square off against John Burnett, who was unopposed as the Republican candidate.
(Reporting by Edward Krudy; Editing by Tiziana Barghini)