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web posted September 18, 2000

Lazio takes Clinton behind the woodshed during debate

In their first debate on September 13, New York Senate candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rick Lazio fought a pitched battle, with Clinton repeatedly linking Lazio to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, while Lazio accused her of "hypocrisy" on campaign finance and called her debate tactics "beyond shameless" and "positively Clintonesque."

Rick Lazio and Hillary ClintonThe dramatic high point of the debate came when Lazio, a Republican member of Congress, crossed the stage, handed Clinton a paper that he said was a pledge to not use "soft money" — the unlimited funds parties raise from unions and corporations — and demanded that Clinton immediately sign it.

She demurred, saying Lazio had to put a leash on out-of-state Republican groups who were spending millions to defeat her with "mass mailings with these outrageous personal attacks."

"It’s the height of hypocrisy to talk about soft money when she’s been raising soft money by the bucketloads out in Hollywood and spending all that money on negative advertising," Lazio scoffed.

Accusing Lazio of "chutzpah" (Yiddish for brazenness or gall), Clinton pointed out that the Republican had served as a deputy whip to Gingrich in 1997 and 1998 and castigated him for voting to "shut the government down" in 1995 by refusing to accept Clinton administration budget proposals.

"I didnít cast the votes Newt Gingrich asked me to cast. Iíve been a steady, consistent voice on behalf of children and families," she declared.

Lazio shot back, "If you had a record, I suppose, you wouldnít need to use Newt Gingrich."

When Russert asked Clinton whether she would apologize for her 1998 remarks in which she accused those who were investigating Monica Lewinsky’s relationship with President Bill Clinton of being part of "a vast right-wing conspiracy," Clinton said, "That was a very painful time for me, for my family and for our country.

"Obviously, I didn’t mislead anyone," she said. "I didn’t know the truth" about her husband’s liaison with Lewinsky and his efforts to conceal it.

When Russert asked Lazio about a campaign fund-raising letter he sent stating that "the first lady has embarrassed our country," Lazio said, "I stand by that fund-raising letter. I stand by that statement. And I think that frankly what is so troubling here with respect to what my opponent has said is that somehow it only matters what you say when you get caught."

Lazio said Clinton was guilty of "blaming others every time you have responsibility. Unfortunately, that’s become a pattern for my opponent, and it’s something I reject and I believe New Yorkers reject."

Russert asked Lazio about his own credibility in not stopping a TV advertisement run by an independent Republican group that used montage photography to put him and Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the same frame — an editing trick that Moynihan protested.
Lazio said the ad was not produced by his campaign and was no longer being aired.

On the question of taxpayer-funded vouchers to help parents pull their children out of public schools and send them to private schools, Clinton emphatically said she opposed vouchers and proclaimed her support for public schools.

She sidestepped a question from the audience about why she had sent her daughter to a private school in Washington, instead of to a public school.

Lazio said he supported vouchers for students in failing schools and noted that both he and his two children had attended public schools in New York.

Clinton portrayed herself as someone who could accomplish more for New Yorkers, a Democrat whose views on supporting public education and a patients’ bill of rights were more in tune with the state’s voters than Lazio’s.

"I just hope that New Yorkers will decide that it’s more important what I’m for than where I’m from," she said in her closing statement.

Pointing to his eight years in the House of Representatives, Lazio argued: "She’s done nothing for New York. I’ve delivered for New York."

Confronted with criticism of her 1993 health care reform plan by Moynihan, the man she seeks to replace in the Senate, Clinton said that even though her plan failed to win congressional approval, "we learned a lot about what we can do step-by-step" in extending health insurance to the uninsured.

Lazio assailed her on the issue, saying that "even the people in her own party ran away" from the Clinton health care proposal. He charged that the plan "would have been terrible for New York" by taking funding away from university teaching hospitals.

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