The long-awaited debate on Monday in the New York governor's race showed Democrat Andrew Cuomo, son of the former governor and Democratic icon, as steeped in how New York government works and how he believes it should be fixed.
Meanwhile, his top rival, Tea Party-backed Republican Carl Paladino, sought to display a passion for the work he says career politicians like Cuomo have failed to do.
The 90-minute debate was punctuated with some jabs by the five minor party candidates.
Anti-Prohibition Party candidate Kirsten Davis, the former "Manhattan madam" who wrote a book and was jailed in a prostitution investigation of a ring she was said to operate, frequently compared prostitution with politics, often finding politics a worse profession.
She said politicians are the worst prostitutes in the state and added, "I may be the only person sitting on this stage with the right experience to deal with them."
Cuomo repeatedly criticized the government now run by his party and harkened to a time past when he said New York state government was considered a model for other states. He praised past leadership, although he didn't specifically note his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Cuomo, Paladino resist jabs at each other
Cuomo spoke in detail with confidence on every subject, appearing more composed than Paladino and playing to the crowd more than the other candidates at the Hofstra University debate.
"I know this state like nobody else on this stage," Cuomo said. "I understand the disgust with Albany, and I share it."
But, the former federal housing secretary added: "No state has anything on New York, and we're going to make this the Empire State again, don't make any mistake about that."
Paladino, a Buffalo developer, said state government doesn't need tweaking, but rather a major overhaul that scares career politicians like Cuomo.
"My critics want to say I'm crazy," Paladino said.
"No, I'm passionate," he said. He then ticked off his platform: cutting spending by 20 percent, cutting taxes by 10 percent, term limits of eight years for state officials, disclosure of all outside income to identify conflicts of interest and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Legislature.
"My plan scares them to death," Paladino said. "You tell me if I'm crazy."
In the only scheduled debate of the nasty campaign, neither Cuomo nor Paladino targeted the other, although some of the minor party candidates took shots at both.
Political scientist Doug Muzzio of Baruch College said the debate didn't change the race for any candidate.
"No winners, no home runs, triples, doubles," Muzzio said. "A couple of singles. No big errors. Nothing about the race changed."
Paladino struggles, builds steam
Paladino, in his first public debate, stumbled early in his answers. At one point he referred to the state Board of Regents as the state school board, which doesn't exist. He struggled with some of his statistics while Cuomo rattled off his.
But Paladino became more confident midway through the debate, striking his fist to his heart at times and leaning into the camera.
"Jobs are the No. 1 concern of our young people today," Paladino said, citing how taxes and over-regulation of businesses are forcing an exodus of young New Yorkers.
"They don't have that grounded feeling anymore," he continued. "They want a government of the people, by the people and for the people and that's what we will give them."
Said Cuomo: "The state of New York government just doesn't get it. Taxes are out of control ... they are chasing businesses from this state and the businesses leave, the jobs leave."
He elicited the first laughs of the night while providing statistics that defined New York's problems and his solutions.
"I think the question in this race is who can actually do it? Who can get it done?" Cuomo asked, a barb at Paladino, a novice politician whose temperament for office has been questioned. "I have gotten a lot of legislation passed."
The other contenders
The debate also included Charles Barron of the Freedom Party, Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, Warren Redlich of the Libertarian Party and Jimmy McMillan of the Rent 2 Damn High Party.
Barron, a New York City councilman, called for a progressive tax system that would target the wealthy. "How about taking it out on the rich?" he asked. "They have more money, they should pay more."
Redlich railed about the size of state government and groused that 110,000 state employees earn more than $100,000 a year. "We have to stop wasting money," he said. "If you stop wasting money, you will have more money in your pockets."
Hawkins called for public financing of elections as a solution to corruption in state government. He also urged a progressive tax system.