MENANDS—Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco continued his offensive blitz against Democrat Scott Murphy during a live televised debate last night, the second-to-last candidate forum for the race to succeed Kirsten Gillibrand in Congress.
Several times during the hour-long session, which was moderated by Jim Kambrich of NBC affiliate WNYT, Tedisco challenged Murphy to say whether or not he read the economic stimulus bill before declaring his support for the measure and blasting Tedisco for not taking a position on it.
"My teachers always taught me to do my homework, and that has been validated right now," Tedisco said, referring to a clause in the bill that did not prohibit A.I.G. from paying already contracted bonuses. "He either read those 1,100 pages and understood them fully, and understood that A.I.G. would be able to give $164 million in taxpayers' bonuses—to those people that took our economy into this tremendous downturn—or he just rubberstamped that."
Murphy repeated what he has said in the face of this attack before: he thinks the bonuses should be given back, that he is happy to support the stimulus bill because it contains tax cuts and will help create jobs.
He did not say, when pressed by reporters, whether he had read the bill in full or was aware of the clause in question.
"I think the most important question here every voter knows," Murphy began, sweat beading on his forehead as he held his youngest son, Duke, during a post-debate scrum. "It doesn't matter what's on page 742. What's the stimulus about? What are we trying to do? The voters understand that this is a clear distinction in this race."
Murphy remained even-keeled throughout the forum, as he was during a debate against Tedisco in Saratoga Springs. He steered many of his answers back to the stimulus package. For example, asked about David Paterson's order for layoffs of state workers, Tedisco said they should be a "last resort," Murphy said he would "leave it to him [Paterson] to drive the state budget," then added that the stimulus money would help.
There wasn't much that hasn't come up before in the race, except Murphy criticizing Tedisco for his opposition to embryonic stem cell research. Murphy said he supports Barack Obama's decision to overturn a ban on embryonic stem cell research.
Murphy challenged Tedisco only once, asking his opponent to enumerate the $300 billion of pork that Tedisco says is in the stimulus bill.
Tedisco replied by listing $153.7 million in what he sees as questionable spending—like studying the stars in Hawaii and making snow in Minnesota—and added that "the list goes on and on."
Murphy came back to the point in his closing argument, touting the benefits of the stimulus and saying, "I think it's important; Jim thinks it's pork."
"I hope he's going to give us the rest of the list," Murphy said after the debate. "Everybody I talk to says you can't get there without his $300 billion, which is almost half of the bill; you can't get there unless you're talking about calling the middle-class tax cuts pork, or money for state and local governments pork, or money for our shovel-ready projects is pork."
Tedisco fired back during his closing argument.
"I'm so thankful that I've had the opportunity to be a public servant and serve 60,000 constituents in the 20th Congressional District," he said. "And look, all this talk about pork, I don't even like pork. I don't even eat pork. But let me tell you something: I don't think middle-class jobs are pork."
As it has been throughout this race, the question once again is whether Tedisco's in-your-face approach will be seen as a sign of vigorous representation or bullying. He didn't focus, as he has before, on his deep roots in the Capital Region. Now, Tedisco repeated several times, this is about his record of "public service."
Tedisco's never missed an opportunity to mention Eliot Spitzer, including during a "lightening round" question about whether he would support putting U.S. Army troops along the border with Mexico in the face of rising drug violence.
"I think we've got to tighten up our borders, and I think that's the message we had to send to our previous governor. We couldn't stop them from coming up here in New York by giving illegal aliens drivers' licenses," Tedisco said, as every reporter munching fruit and cashews in a back room of the television studio shook their heads. (The license proposal launched a contentious public debate before Spitzer dropped it. This happened in 2007, a long time ago in politics–for example, it damaged Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.)
Murphy said, "I think that's a possibility, it's something we should look into and I could support that."
There were no voters around the studio, so it was difficult to gauge how they will react. A new independent poll is currently in the field for the race, and results should be out by the end of the week. The election, of course, is on Tuesday.