WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
A capacity crowd packed the David S. Mack Athletic Center at Hofstra University for a surreal 90-minute debate. The field of five minor party gubernatorial candidates stole the show from the two major party candidates, Republican Carl Paladino and the Democrat Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Throughout the evening, it was the third party candidates appeared better prepared than Republican contender Paladino to take on Cuomo.
Meanwhile, Cuomo exuded total confidence and gave new hints at what a Cuomo administration would be like should he prevail next month. He suggested at one point that the governor take over the Metropolitan Transit Authority, calling it "wasteful and inefficient." "Nobody's in charge," Cuomo charged.
Cuomo burnished his resume as a reformer and cost cutter, referring to 500 Medicaid fraud prosecutions he initiated as Attorney General, which recovered $700 million for taxpayers. He rejected that money alone would improve the performance of the state's public schools saying "we are number one in spending" and "40th in performance."
Paladino seemed distracted for much of the evening, even leaving the stage at one point. He did get applause from the suburban Long Island crowd when he called for more school choice and vouchers.
"It's a shame we pay more attention to the teachers union and not the students," said Paladino. Paladino called for "dismembering" Albany's current education bureaucracy and pledged to free local school boards from "mandates from Albany."
But most of the rhetorical pyrotechnics came from the minor party candidates.
Warren Redlich, an attorney running as a Libertarian, went after Attorney General Cuomo for receiving millions in campaign funds from real estate interests, including $55,000 from a parking lot owned by a Delaware corporation. He challenged Cuomo to offer the name of the people behind that donation. None was forthcoming.
It fell to Anti-Prohibition Gubenatorial candidate, former escort service manager Kristin Davis, to lay out the most detailed budget proposal of the evening, which included legalizing marijuana and gambling. She predicted both would net the state $3 billion and tens of thousands of jobs.
She scored one of the most memorable laugh lines of the evening with her scathing critique of the MTA. "The key difference between the MTA and my former escort agency is that I operated one set of books, and my former agency delivered on-time and reliable service," she quipped to audience laughter.
Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, whose running on the Freedom Party line, told Democratic voters that they should not respond to what he described as Cuomo campaign fear tactics that Conservative Republican Carl Paladino could win unless they voted for Cuomo.
"Don't believe in the bogey man," warned Barron. Barron said that both Paladino and Cuomo planned on not raising taxes, keeping tax cuts intact for the wealthy, and would layoff public workers.
Barron proposed a progressive income tax targeting the state's wealthiest households as the "only way to avoid balancing the budget on the backs of the poor."
Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins found common ground with Barron on the need to raise taxes on the wealthy and to reinstitute the stock transfer tax. Hawkins was the only candidate to raise the issue of global climate change, which he described as "catastrophic."
Hawkins, like Barron called for a ban on the controversial use of hydrofracking to extract natural gas from below ground. Hydrofracking opponents contend the process risks contaminating the state's potable water supply. Hawkins branded the Democratic position on the process, "flim flam."
Attorney General Cuomo said he would back the extraction process "only if it is safe."
But the title for most "youtube-able" moments had to go to Vietnam veteran Jimmy McMillan, who was running on the "Rent Is Too Damn High" ballot line. McMillan called for the roll back of both residential and commercial rents, which he said would immediately put more money in the pockets of millions of New Yorkers. He spoke passionately about what he saw as a pressing need to address the state's hunger problem. McMillan managed to repeatedly answer every question by closing out his response with his banner phrase “the rent is to damn high."
In the lightening round on gay marriage, McMillian said if elected Governor, he would let people define marriage anyway they saw fit, even if they "wanted to marry a shoe."