New York, NY —
(AP) The three Democrats trailing Andrew Cuomo in the polls for state attorney general took turns attacking the front-runner Thursday night in the first debate before the party's September primary.
Mark Green, the former New York City public advocate, attacked Cuomo's record as head of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department under President Clinton. Green said Cuomo failed to properly oversee a low-income housing program, failed to carry mandates to curb pesticide use, and gave money to Indian tribes to build "smoke shops" where cigarettes were sold.
Green also questioned Cuomo's decision to run for attorney general.
"Andrew, you're running for the wrong office because governor wasn't open," Green said.
Sean Patrick Maloney, a former aide to President Clinton, also took several digs at Cuomo.
"I don't think Andrew is the best candidate for the job. I'm not even sure he's the second best," Maloney said.
Cuomo, however, cited his promotion by Clinton to head HUD as proof he succeeded in bringing reform to the troubled federal agency.
"Mark Green had been attacking people for many years in politics. I would rather talk about my positive ideas," Cuomo said. "Let's talk about New Yorkers and their problems."
Charlie King, a former housing official for Clinton, also took on his former boss.
"I don't think any one of them has been a lawyer in a court this century," King said. "I have."
Under questioning, Cuomo said he hasn't prosecuted a case since 1994.
They all said they would fulfill the duties of the job to defend the state against lawsuits. However, only Maloney said he would support the death penalty.
The Democratic front-runner for governor, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, supports capital punishment for terrorists, cop killers and other high crimes.
"I'm the only person who thinks Osama bin Laden should be put to death and I've got 3,000 reasons why," Maloney said, referring to the death toll at ground zero.
In another pointed exchange, Green called one of Cuomo's ideas "foolish." Cuomo said he would enlist local district attorneys to help combat Medicaid fraud. Green said they are already too busy prosecuting street crime.
The winner of September's Democratic primary will face Republican Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester County district attorney.
Spitzer, who enjoys widespread support in the polls, has expanded the reach of the attorney general's office to Wall Street, the Internet and even federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. He is running for governor.
In the past two weeks Green has stepped up his attacks against Cuomo, a son of former Gov. Mario Cuomo, launching a series of campaign advertisements critical of Cuomo's record at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A Siena Research Institute poll in July showed Cuomo leading the primary race with 45 percent support. Green had 27 percent. King and Maloney each had 3 percent, with 22 percent undecided.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press