Kirsten Gillibrand’s three Republican opponents agree: Ed Cox has not been a good chairman for their party.
The answer came in the first televised debate between the little-known, under-funded Republican candidates, Joe DioGuardi, a former congressman from Westchester, Bruce Blakeman, a former local legislator in Nassau County, and David Malpass, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Arguably, none of them would be on stage to even answer the question about Cox’s leadership if, as chairman, Cox had been able to lure a serious Republican challenger into the race.
As it stands now, DioGuardi, Blakeman and Malpass all trail Gillibrand in public opinion polls and fundraising, and have so far failed to demonstrate they’ll have a bona fide field operation come November.
Each tried tying Gillibrand to President Barack Obama and the Washington establishment. DioGuardi, a certified public accountant, said Gillibrand is throwing around money we don’t have to solve the state’s job creation problem.
“New York loses more jobs every month than any other state in the union but one. And what is Senator Kristen Gillibrand's response to that? To spend money we don't have,” said DioGuardi.
Malpass echoed the sentiment, saying Gillibrand “has been completely uncontrollable in her spending and in her ideas.”
Blakeman’s most pointed criticism of Gillibrand came when discussing gun control. As an upstate congresswoman representing Albany, Gillibrand had earned high marks from the National Rifle Association. But since being appointed senator, she’s come out in favor of tougher gun control laws (enough to earn the endorsement of Long Island congresswoman and gun control advocate Carolyn McCarthy).
Blakeman said Gillibrand’s gun control focus is misplaced.
“Gang members aren't licensed gun holders, they have illegal arms, illegal weapons. Stop punishing the people who play by the rules," said Blakeman, who acknowledged to owning two guns (a Smith & Wesson and a shotgun).
Blakeman, who flirted with running for New York City mayor briefly last year, appeared the most telegenic and articulate of the three candidates. DioGuardi, by comparison was more measured in his remarks, and substance. And Malpass offered the least amount of fireworks or notable YouTube moments.
When the three candidates were allowed to ask a question of any of their challengers, both DioGuardi and Malpass chose to focus on Blakeman (arguably making him the perceived front-runner).
DioGuardi accused Blakeman of raising taxes 9 percent while a Nassau County legislator, as the county saw it’s bonds go to “near junk bond status.”
Blakeman seized the moment and turned his notable blemish into a teachable moment.
“As an elected official, I’ve made mistakes in my life, but you have to know the full context,” Blakeman explained. “We hadn’t had a tax increase years and I was faced with a choice” of “whether or not to raise taxes on the average home owner $130 or whether I had to lay off police officers, correction officers, probation officers, and not update our sewage treatment plant. I chose to go with safety first.”
“Whether it was a mistake or not, I can’t tell you. But I made that choice. I’m a leader, and so, leaders make choices.”
Malpass asked Blakeman if he’d seek to reform the state pension system.
Blakeman said he’d work to end the practice of “loading up” on overtime in an employees final three years in order to pad their pension payout.
Blakeman fired shots at his rivals, accusing DioGuardi of being a paid lobbyist and saying Malpass took bailout money at Bear Stearns while writing opinion columns urging officials to deny relief aid to flood victims in rural parts of the state.
DioGuardi said he was not paid, but rather, worked as a “volunteer” lobbyist for humanitarian efforts in Europe. DioGuardi called it a “mitzvah” and said he helped create the state of Kosovo.
When questioned by Blakeman, DioGuardi admitted to going on “one or two” fact-finding trips when he was a member of Congress, but said, “I wasn’t one to abuse that.”
Malpass said Blakeman was taking his flood victim article “completely out of context” but later said he was unaware of the specific article, and challenged Blakeman to produce a copy of it.
The most memorable part of the night came shortly after this skirmish among the candidates, when a debate host asked each candidate to say something nice about their opponents, including Gillibrand.
Blakeman’s compliment about the woman he’s trying to unseat: “I think Kirsten Gillibrand is an attractive woman. I think she’s bright, and I think she’s probably a good mom herself.”
When asked about the “attractive woman,” Blakeman said, “She’s an attractive, bright woman who I believe is a good mom.”