The prostitution scandal that felled Eliot Spitzer as governor came up persistently Thursday night during the final scheduled debate before Democratic voters decide between him and Scott Stringer in the Sept. 10 primary.
Asked by the moderator, WCBS-TV's Marcia Kramer, whether he would have filed criminal charges against a defendant like himself had he been the case prosecutor, Spitzer, a former Manhattan district attorney, said no.
That prompted Stringer to say: "The fact that we can even ask a candidate for comptroller about being Client Number 9" -- a reference to how court papers described Spitzer as a john -- "speaks to the issue of credibility in the capital market, during the pension meetings" -- which the comptroller's office oversees.
He added: "Spitzer gets elected, we basically have given a get-out-of-jail card."
Spitzer asked voters to look at the totality of his record fighting powerful interests, such as Wall Street wrongdoers. He said New Yorkers approach him on the street and ask him to return to public life.
"I made a mistake -- more than one. I'd also made a difference," Spitzer said. "I'm asking for your vote and your support. Give me a chance once again to fight for you."
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week of likely Democratic primary voters found Spitzer with a 19-point lead over Stringer, the Manhattan borough president.
Spitzer, as he has in their previous two debates, accused Stringer of playing a role in helping Mayor Michael Bloomberg overturn term limits to secure four more years in office -- which Spitzer blamed for troubles in the city's public housing and with the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program. Stringer retorted that he campaigned for Bloomberg's 2009 Democratic opponent, Bill Thompson, while Spitzer did not.
Spitzer said he would favor legalizing marijuana but not prostitution. Stringer would keep both illegal.
The men disagreed little on policy over which the comptroller has actual control: they agree, for example, that the city pays too much in outside consultant fees -- $400 million -- for its pension funds.
In a rare show of comity, when asked to say something nice about each other, both said they would resume their past friendship after the campaign. Stringer even invited Spitzer to come over and baby-sit his two young sons. "I'm glad you trust me for that," Spitzer replied.
The exchange prompted Stringer's wife, Elyse Buxbaum, to tweet from the WCBS-TV green room: "No. Not with my kids."