NEW YORK -- Scott Stringer has said he wouldn’t trust Eliot Spitzer to be New York City’s next comptroller, but he’d still let the former governor babysit his children.
Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, made the awkward attempt at kindness toward his opponent during Thursday night’s debate between the two Democrats, the third and final clash between the two before the September 10 primary.
A panelist had asked the two politicians, who’ve engaged in brutal attacks of late, to say something nice about each other.
“We’ve been friends before this campaign. We’re going to be friends after this campaign,” Stringer said. “We’re definitely going to hang out after this, that I promise you. He’s going to help me babysit my two kids and we’ll have that drink.”
Spitzer, too, insisted that despite the volleys of criticism each side has thrown, that there are no hard feelings between the men.
“I don’t think we’ve been hurling insults. Politics can get a little ugly, no question about it,” said Spitzer. “Scott and I like each other. We get along and I think whatever is said in this campaign, that afterward we'll be the friends that we were before.”
It was just one of several bizarre, humorous and sometimes uncomfortable exchanges in the final comptroller debate.
When pressed to sing a few bars of a favorite song, Stringer in a monotone delivered the opening lines to a classic David Bowie hit.
“We can be heroes,” he said flatly.
Spitzer refused to partake in that lighthearted lightning-round question.
“You know I’m not going to drive your viewers off the TV,” said Spitzer, “but I’ll tell you what it is: ‘Land of Hope and Dreams,' by Bruce [Springsteen].
“We’ll do a duet the next time we’re together,” said Spitzer when CBS moderator Marcia Kramer pushed him to show off his voice.
The shyness Spitzer displayed at singing is “the difference between us,” Stringer said later to members of the press. “I’m somebody who’s willing to take chances.”
Spitzer was asked if he’d accept a salary of $1 a year as comptroller, given that he made more than $8 million in 2011 and 2012 combined. After a long preamble in which he said he’s not in the elite income bracket of current Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he agreed to take a buck a year if elected.
“I’m very comfortable," he said. "I don’t want anyone to think I’m Michael Bloomberg. I’m not. Will I serve for one dollar a year? Yes,” said Spitzer. “I’m successful enough and comfortable enough.”
The same question was not posed to Stringer, but he interrupted Kramer to respond anyway.
“Marcia, why didn't you ask me if I'm going to serve?” said Stringer. “My wife is listening to this debate -- Absolutely not. I have a 20-month-old son and I have a 12-week-old son, Miles, and no, I have to have the salary. I applaud Eliot, but no I need the money.”
Speaking to reporters after the debate, Spitzer said he interpreted the babysitting gig as a sign that Stringer finds him trustworthy, despite the reminders of the prostitution scandal that forced him to resign from the state's highest office in 2008.
“I’m honored that he asked and I’ll accept the job. I’m sure he’ll call me and tell me which evening he and his wife are going to go out for dinner,” said Spitzer. “Not to make light of it, I think it does speak to a very fundamental issue. The same reason that public seems to be trusting me to come back. I’ve acknowledged my errors. The same reason the public is asking me to come back is the same reason Scott would ask me to babysit his kids.”
Moments later, Stringer, standing with his wife Elyse Buxbaum by his side said it’s not up to him to hire the babysitter.
“I’m already in trouble,” said Stringer. “My wife will make all those decisions going forward.”
And it doesn’t sound like Spitzer will get the call anytime soon, based on Buxbaum’s comment:
“I love the people that are watching our kids now.”