It’s been one of the most contentious races of the year, and the mudslinging continued on Tuesday night during a debate between 16-year incumbent Senator Neil Breslin, and firefighter and Albany County Legislative Chairman Shawn Morse.
Some of those who attended the debate say the fast-paced, hour and a half long forum went quickly as, question after question, listeners seemed genuinely interested in hearing what the candidates ‘would say next.’
The two Democrats battled it out over everything from unfunded mandate reform to the issue of potential state regulation of soft drink size limits.
The debate was held at Russell Sage College, and was moderated by our own FOX23 News Anchor John Gray.
And while the pair disagrees about several issues, including whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should resign amid allegations related to the alleged Vito Lopez scandal, the Senator and the Chairman got into a heated exchange over a topic they agree on: increasing the minimum wage.
During the debate on the matter Morse said, “Years ago, I had a problem because I lost my job, and I had to live on minimum wage which, at the time, was $3.50. The difference between me and the state senator is this: I know what It’s like to struggle every single day. I know what it’s like not to have no money.”
To that, Senator Breslin countered, “From the time I was ten years old, I have held a job, and it’s gone from paperboy, to waiter, dishwasher, to bartender, to construction worker, to truck driver. And I went to law school. And you know? Having a law degree is not something negative. It’s something I worked very hard for, and I had to go to law school at the time with a wife and three children, and if you think that wasn’t tough? It was.”
The tension between incumbent Breslin and relative political newcomer Morse was evident in the ‘think quick, what comes to your mind first’ portion of the debate. The question was ‘Are we better off today than we were four years ago?’
To that, Morse quickly answered, “Not with the way the state Senate is now,” which was met by a huge round of applause.
Then, when the same question was tossed to Breslin he said, “Yes. I do think we are better off than we were.”
The two Democrats were at odds over alleged character issues all night, specifically about Breslin’s public questioning of Morse’s character over an assault arrest that Morse openly admits did happen after he got into a fist fight when he was 22-years-old.
During the debate Breslin said, “We don’t have an application process when we run for the Senate, so it’s up for the voter to decide, the more information we can give them to make a determination , the better equipped they are.”
Morse countered, “What we do is we live, we learn, and we pass it on. But the mistakes I made don’t define Shawn Morse. What defines me is how many times I got up from the mistakes I made.”
And after the debate the character questions continued.
When asked what the public should know about Morse during an interview with FOX23 News, Breslin said, “The borrowing from the I.D.A. that he didn’t pay back in Cohoes, some of his (Morse’s) transgressions with the law, it’s up to the voters to review those, and make it a part of the package.”
But during a separate interview right after the debate Morse said, “This (arrest) was when I was 22 years old! You know? These are things that happened when I was a kid. You know the senator has some things that he should talk about, but I’ve never raised ‘em.”
Breslin says now, more than ever, character is one of the most important things in an New York election, while Morse says he’s already disclosed everything there is to know, adding that the character questions are distracting the campaign from the important issues.
Morse said, “In 2004 I put out my whole entire record when I ran for the County Legislature! This is old news. The only difference is, you don’t hire a private investigator to follow people’s family’s around and then talk about their character. I think it’s his character that calls into question.”
Moments earlier during that post-debate interview, Breslin said, “Character? Character is enormous for me. I tell people where I went to high school, what I did. Look at what’s happened? Vito Lopez, Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate. Character counts.”
In the closing statements Breslin touted his years of experience, and listed a laundry list of accomplishments including being chosen by his peers as the second highest ranking Democrat in the state Senate.
In his closing arguments, Morse pushed his ‘fresh ideas,’ and promised to ‘actually do more’ instead of just constantly ‘ordering studies to be done, or task forces to be convened.’
The primary election will be held on September 13th.