Just a little over two weeks until Election Day, the Democratic and Republican front runners in the race for governor avoided confrontation during an unusual Monday night debate at Hofstra University on Long Island that included five other candidates from smaller political parties.
Republican candidate Carl Paladino, who over the last month had made headlines criticizing Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo with great fervor, steered generally clear of attacks during the 90-minute event in Hempstead, N.Y.
The other participants, who were given equal speaking time as Paladino and Cuomo, were Freedom Party candidate Charles Barron, Anti-Prohibition Party candidate Kristin Davis, Green Party candidate Howard Hawkins, The Rent Is Too Damn High Party candidate Jimmy McMillan and Libertarian Party candidate Warren Redlich.
Paladino, who according to his running mate had not participated in a previous political debate, avoided his self-described "mad as hell" demeanor and never mentioned Cuomo by name.
"Our government goes on and on and on, with political jobs, with entire agencies that are political," said the Republican.
Paladino appeared uncomfortable at the debate. He left the stage mid-debate for a bathroom break, stumbled over several words, and at one point confused Medicaid and Medicare.
His most forceful moment came when he argued for charter schools.
"We have to recognize the shame and taking hundreds of thousands of little five- and six-year-olds every year and putting them into dysfunctional urban schools at a cost that's astronomical," said Paladino. "And what happens? Less than 50 percent of them graduate. These schools for years and years, like 'Groundhog Day,' they can't perform."
Cuomo received most of the candidates' criticism, but he avoided saying negative comments. He gave few specific plans and saved his strongest rhetoric for the politicians he investigated as state attorney general.
"To lead, we need to have zero tolerance for any waste, fraud, abuse of public integrity, of public corruption violations, period. Enforce the laws. That's what I've been doing as the attorney general, on both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans," said Cuomo. "If you break the law, you will go to jail."
The most outspoken candidate was Barron, a City Council member from Brooklyn who repeatedly targeted Cuomo and Paladino.
"Asking Andrew Cuomo and Carl Paladino to end corruption is like asking an arsonist to put out the fires. It doesn't make sense," said Barron.
One of the evening's few sparks came when Barron attacked Cuomo on the jobs front.
"Cuomo's going to be the king of layoffs, trust me, if he gets in office," said Barron. "That's why you better go with me, I'm telling you. This guy gets in, you're going to be laid off"
Cuomo responded, "Charles, if they go with you, there's no jobs."
Davis used humor to attack her opponents. Having previously served prison time for running an escort service, she said that she was the only candidate with experience to deal with the "whores" in the state Legislature.
Many candidates attacked the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but Davis joked that her former escort agency, unlike the MTA, provided "on-time and reliable service."
Representing a rainbow of opinions, the seven candidates battled over a variety of topics, including drilling for natural gas, property taxes and transportation.
Lastly, the candidates were asked whether they supported gay marriage. Only Paladino said he was opposed and Barron said that he had not yet taken a position.
McMillan said he supported any type of marriage, saying, "If you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you."
Possibly the debate's most unconventional candidate, McMillan wore black gloves, spoke at a rapid pace and repeated his party's name -- "The Rent Is Too Damn High" -- like a mantra.
Even Paladino's campaign manager said McMillan was the night's winner. As for the black gloves, McMillan said they are from the psychological effects of Agent Orange he encountered during the Vietnam War.
NY1 has invited both Cuomo and Paladino to take part in a debate next week, but thus far neither candidate has agreed to take part.
Earlier Friday, the New York Post announced its endorsement of Cuomo, but it was hardly a rousing endorsement.
In supporting the Democrat, the Post says it hopes – but doesn't fully expect – that Cuomo will be able to bring reform to Albany.
The paper also says that over the course of the campaign Paladino revealed himself to be "undisciplined, unfocused and untrustworthy, that is, fundamentally unqualified for the office he seeks.”
The debate also follows a new poll that shows Cuomo with a big lead over his Republican rival.
The New York Times survey found 59 percent of likely voters supporting Cuomo and 24 percent going for Paladino; 73 percent also say Cuomo has the right temperament to be a good governor, while only 23 percent say Paladino has the right temperament.
The poll surveyed 1,139 adults, although only 943 said they were registered to vote. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Meanwhile, NY1 is also hosting a series of debates between the candidates for Senate.
On Thursday, October 21, NY1 will carry the only live televised debate between Democratic incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Joseph DioGuardi.
On Sunday, October 24, NY1 will air the only debate between Democratic incumbent Charles Schumer and Republican Jay Townsend.
Both Senate debates start at 7 p.m.