Debate Cringe Moment: Katz Dumps Hevesi

Last night's Democratic comptroller candidates' debate had a moment that made at least a few of us cringe -- and searching for the replay button to make sure we heard what we thought we heard.

The moment came during the perennial "Lightning Round" - those "Yes" or "No" zingers from NY1 host Dominic Carter designed to reveal small truths and provide a light moment or two.

But when Carter asked the four candidates if Bill Thompson has been a better city comptroller than his predecessor, Alan Hevesi, there was more tragedy than comedy when the question came around to Melinda Katz. Without hesitating, the Queens city councilwoman threw her longtime mentor and ally under the bus as she joined her three rivals by declaring Thompson the better of the two. Ouch!

Hevesi was Katz's political tutor and good friend. The two own homes near each other in Forest Hills, and Katz has often spoken of how her neighbor, then a powerful state assemblyman, encouraged her to become politically active. Katz worked on Hevesi's campaigns, was active in his political club, and inherited his old assembly seat after Hevesi was elected city comptroller in 1993. Hevesi was such a fierce backer of his young protege when she ran for his seat in 1994 that he broke ranks with angry county Democratic leaders who had already endorsed another candidate.

Forget the rumors about an even closer relationship between the pair. That's beside the point. What counts is that -- in a nano-second -- Katz junked her longtime guru for political advantage.

Of course she had solid political reasons to do so: To have answered "No" meant facing tough follow-up questions about the scandal now associated with Hevesi's name as a result of the outrageous pension profiteering conducted on his watch as state comptroller by his longtime political consultant, Hank Morris, and other cronies.

But all of the allegations leveled by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo have cited Hevesi's performance in his state post; so far, no one has come up with an example of similar misbehavior by Hevesi or his aides during his two terms as city comptroller.

Meanwhile, Thompson's cozy relationship with several placement agents who have made millions off the city pension funds has been detailed in the Voice. But with Thompson certain to be the Democratic Party's mayoral candidate, the last thing that any comptroller candidate wants is to be dumping on the man at the top of the ticket. But Hevesi? That's an easy target. Even for someone who owes him her entire career.

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