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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Cuomo still figures in debate for state comptroller race

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo smiles as he greets

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo smiles as he greets those waiting for him to sign his new book "All things Possible" at Barnes and Noble Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014 in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Any current "A" list of political celebrities must include Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Just this week, Cuomo had a memoir published by HarperCollins, appeared on national TV shows with David Letterman and Charlie Rose, and planned to jet off for a symbolic pre-election trip to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

If New York has a political "C" list, though, that "C" might stand for comptroller. On Wednesday evening in Manhattan, about eight blocks from a bookstore where Cuomo was signing copies of his book "All Things Possible," spectators filled maybe a third of the auditorium at Baruch College for a televised debate between the candidates for this unsexy but powerful job.

But the debate made up in substance what it lacked in glitz, serving to define contrasts between incumbent Democrat Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck Plaza and Republican Bob Antonacci of Syracuse beyond a distinct regional difference in their accents.

As sole trustee of the $177 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, DiNapoli said, "We have a great track record and that comes with a lot of hard work and professional attention."

Asked by a moderator if retirees should worry about the week's abrupt stock drops, DiNapoli replied, "We're not day traders, right? So one day in itself does not value the fund." He added that the portfolio is already diversified because "we do not want to be completely exposed to the vagaries of the stock market."

As expected, Antonacci, a CPA who's now the Onondaga County comptroller, painted a bleaker picture of current conditions.

Retirees needn't worry, he said, because pensions would be ultimately guaranteed by taxpayers -- but those taxpayers could be on the hook for more than DiNapoli indicated. Antonacci talked of pushing a massive change to defined-contribution from defined-benefit plans -- that is, converting from traditional pensions to cheaper 401(k)-type plans common in the private sector, which DiNapoli said would "put more New Yorkers at risk" of inadequate income in their later years.

Back and forth it went on NY1 News. The rapid-fire "he-said, he-said" mostly followed the lines of difference between the two major parties.

The candidates tangled over the amount of investment fees the fund pays out, over when the pension fund might prod companies to change corporate practices, and whether DiNapoli's office appropriately approved a settlement between the Assembly and former employees who charged sexual harassment.

Life on the "C" list sometimes involves those on the "A" list.

Antonacci suggested his opponent didn't go far enough in challenging the Cuomo administration's claim of a $2 billion budget surplus. DiNapoli said he questioned the figure in his analysis -- and showed independence from the three most recent Democratic governors.

The debate moderators asked a fast series of yes-or-no lightning round questions. One of these was whether the candidate intended to read Cuomo's new book.

"No," said Antonacci.

DiNapoli chuckled before answering, "I'm assuming it'll be a Christmas present, and then I will read it."

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