Manhattan D.A. Candidates On Their Best Behavior, Even on the Spitzer Issue

Last night’s debate among the Manhattan district attorney candidates was completely devoid of the fireworks and direct confrontation that marked their televised debate earlier this week.

Leslie Crocker Snyder, who took a shot at rival Cy Vance in her opening statement and pounded away at him during the earlier debate, had nothing negative to say about him last night. In fact, she did not say the words “old boys network” once during the two-hour debate.

The only spark came when Snyder and Richard Aborn snipped at one another over who was being given too much time to answer questions.

The audience was mostly volunteers from one campaign or another, so the candidates were really speaking for the benefit of the handful of reporters in the room.

But the final question of the night was from audience member Dara Avenius, 31, who asked if Eliot Spitzer should have been prosecuted for soliciting a prostitute.

After asking the question, Avenius sat back down in her seat in the second row, and put on a Richard Aborn sticker. She later told me she is a campaign volunteer and just felt like asking the question. The audience laughed, and the candidates collectively grumbled about having to answer the Spitzer question, again.

“Mr. Spitzer should be treated the same way as other johns in the U.S. attorney’s office,” said Aborn. “I don’t know what that policy is, but to me the goal is equal treatment.”

“I really can’t add much to that, because for once, I agree with you totally, Richard,” said Snyder. She then declined to comment on Spitzer because she said it’s improper to discuss a specific case without knowing all the details.

Snyder said, “I don’t know all the specifics, but I do feel very strongly, as Richard does, that you must prosecute both men and women, equally.” She went on to say, “If someone is a john, if there’s evidence to support that, then that person should be prosecuted just as much as a madam or prostitute.”

Snyder said the ultimate goal was to get the people who “profit from this terrible crime” but “if we have evidence that someone was a john, it doesn’t matter if they were the governor or some less grand position, we should be treating them equally.”

Vance, who canceled a fund-raiser that Spitzer was going to host, said, “We need to treat people equally” but said he can’t second-guess the reasoning of federal prosecutors who decided not to charge Spitzer.

Snyder left the debate quickly and barely stood still to answer my question, which is about why she did not take the opportunity tonight to draw as many contrasts with her opponents as she has done previously. Snyder said she thought the debate was substantive and she wanted to stick to policy issues.