September 26, 2006

News Analysis: Spitzer Debates Faso Tonight

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In Bailey Hall tonight, Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer and former Assemblyman John J. Faso will each try to convince the packed house and the TV audience that he deserves to be the next governor of New York State.

For Faso, the debate is an opportunity to chip away at the idea that Spitzer’s election is more of a coronation. For Spitzer, the goal will be to cement his commanding 50-point lead.

Demonstrators will rally outside tonight’s gubernatorial debate in an effort to get Spitzer to support universal healthcare in New York State — once he is governor. The inevitability of a Spitzer win Nov. 7 is the prevailing mentality before what still promises to be a spirited, and entertaining, piece of political theater.

The Faso campaign is emphasizing the Republican’s anti-tax stance and attacking what they see as Spitzer’s plan for a dangerous amount of spending that would raise taxes and hurt the middle class.

Meanwhile, the Spitzer campaign focuses on its candidate’s desire to reform state government. The campaign’s twin slogans are “Let’s bring some passion back to Albany,” and “Starting day one, everything changes.” Spitzer is trying to position himself as an outsider and run against the legislature, using his crusading public persona (the press has dubbed him “The Sheriff of Wall Street”) to argue that he will be a force for integrity and honest government on State Street. Observers hoping for a bare-knuckles brawl tonight might not be disappointed.

Faso has gone negative early on, hitting Spitzer hard with his first television advertisement. The ad, which is running only upstate, attacks Spitzer on taxes. Faso’s move runs against conventional wisdom, which dictates that a candidate’s first paid media effort introduces the candidate and present a positive, hopeful message.

The Faso campaign is leaning hard on taxes and has even set up a website,, spoofing Spitzer’s official site and accusing the Democrat of “bringing more taxes back to Albany.”

“John Faso will bring his message of cutting taxes for hard-working New Yorkers,” said Susan Del Percio, a spokeswoman for Faso.
“It’s about the family budget, not the state budget,” she said.
“Eliot Spitzer will not talk about specifics. He says trust me, and that’s not enough. People are entitled to know what you’re going to do before you take office.”

Spitzer enjoys a commanding lead in the polls, and he is as many as 50 points ahead of Faso. Most election observers expect Spitzer, an immensely popular political star, to prevail easily over Faso in the general election on Nov. 7, just as he dispensed of Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi in the Democratic primary.

But Del Percio said that she hoped that Faso would benefit from the greater attention voters pay to campaigns after Labor Day. She attributed Faso’s trailing numbers to a deficit in name recognition. “No one pays any attention until fall,” she said.

At an appearance in the Adirondacks Friday, The New York Times reports, Faso attacked some of Spitzer’s high-profile prosecutions as attorney general, calling the cases “phony.”

Spitzer responded in kind. “There won’t be anything phony about this speech, John,” he said. “Trust me.”
The Spitzer campaign did not return requests for comment as of press time.

Locally and statewide, Democratic leaders merely hope that Spitzer will win in November by a wide enough margin to convincingly take on the legislature.

“He needs a strong showing to have the mandate to go into Albany and change things,” said Adam Gay ’08, president of the Cornell Democrats.

Democrats, labor unions and other campus and local groups will march from the Commons up to a rally outside Bailey Hall in support of action on a single-payer universal healthcare system in New York State. Spitzer has said he supports the legislation.

“We’re combining the rally for Eliot with this issue to show him that we do care about this issue,” said Gay, who praised Spitzer for agreeing to debate at a student venue upstate.

Megan Sweeney ’07, president of the Cornell Republicans, said that the club was coordinating with the Faso campaign and with the state College Republicans to stage a pro-Faso rally opposite the pro-Spitzer rally for universal healthcare being staged by Democrats and labor unions. Sweeney said that contingents from area universities including Binghamton, Cortland, Syracuse and Wells College would participate. The debate will be a chance for Faso to present his case, Sweeney said, criticizing Spitzer’s spending plan. Sweeney also talked about Faso being a man of “integrity” and questioned Spitzer’s character.

Faso has picked up an early general election endorsement from the New York Sun, the conservative city daily newspaper. However, Spitzer has seen encouragement from The New York Times and, incongruously, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which generally leans far to the right. The Post expressed hope that if elected, Spitzer would deliver on his promise to bring reform to Albany.

Tonight’s debate will be fun to watch, bringing state-level politicos and journalists to the Hill, and the pre-debate rallies ought to lend a sense of freshness and activism to the debate. But barring a stunning reversal or scandalous revelation, Spitzer will win the election.