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Cuomo and Paladino spar in debate for NY governor race

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Tea Party-backed Republican Carl Paladino, vying to become the next New York governor, debated on Monday who would best control spending and repair state government but kept their cool amid expectations that tempers might flare.

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Cuomo, the state attorney general who holds a huge lead in polls over Paladino, a Buffalo developer, joined with five other candidates in the race’s first and likely only debate, held at Hofstra University in suburban Hempstead, New York.

The Republican and Democrat took shots at lawmakers and officials in the state capital of Albany, often criticized as weak and wasteful, and each claimed the best plans for fixing New York’s woes.

“I know this state like nobody else on this stage,” said Cuomo, the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo.

“I understand the disgust at Albany and I share it, but that is not the story of New York state government, my friends,” Cuomo said. “This was the best state government in the United States at one time, great leaders, a great legislature ... and it can be once again.”

Paladino called for cuts in spending on Medicaid and state-mandated education programs he called “debilitating.”

“Our elderly are being taxed out of their homes,” he said. “Our youth are being driven out of the state because they can’t raise their families with these property taxes.”


While the presence of several fringe candidates -- among them a former madam supporting legalization of prostitution and a candidate on the “Rent is 2 Damn High” ticket -- livened up the debate, Paladino and Cuomo were polite and restrained in their remarks.

Observers had thought sparks might fly, particularly from Paladino, whose temper has made headlines. He got into a near fistfight with a New York Post reporter, a confrontation that was videotaped and circulated widely on the Internet.

A recent poll by The New York Times found 59 percent of voters thought Paladino did not have the right temperament and personality to be a good governor.

“My critics, they want to say I’m angry. No, I’m passionate about saving New York,” Paladino said, ticking off proposals to lower taxes by 10 percent, cut spending by 20 percent and force legislators to disclose all outside income.

“My plan scares to death these politicians in Albany. That’s why they call me crazy,” he said.

Cuomo called for an end to waste and fraud in state government and said taxes were too high and spending needed to be reined in.

“The question in this race is who can actually do it,” said Cuomo, who served as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton. “I’ve actually shrunk government ... I’ve gotten a lot of legislation passed.”

The Times poll showed Cuomo with 59 percent support compared with Paladino’s 24 percent among likely voters. It also found 73 percent of voters felt Cuomo had the right temperament and personality to be governor.

Additional reporting by Basil Katz; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh